Arsenal 3-1 Norwich: ate that!

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Well, we got there in the end but we didn’t half make hard work it. Three points and up into third is as good an outcome as we could have had, yet it looked touch and go for a while.

Some of that was down to the fact we didn’t play particularly well, some of it was down to Norwich who, understandably, set out to frustrate us. I get why they played the way they did, with at least 10 men behind the ball whenever we were in possession, but it doesn’t make it any less horrible to look at.

Space was limited, and when we did find a bit we failed to make the most of it. Gervinho rounded the keeper after a wonderful pass from Cazorla, but he must have thought the keeper was Grant Holt because he went about 15 yards round him (a distance that Opta confirmed afterwards equal to the circumfrence of Holt), and his shot trickled across goal with nobody following in.

Giroud had a couple of efforts, a header that went just over and near post flick which the keeper saved, and a really great Gervinho cross late in the half was so fantastic that all the Arsenal players stood admiring it. Level at half-time and it hadn’t been much of a half. As a game of football it was pretty grim viewing.

I thought we might have changed something at half-time. Jack Wilshere, back from injury, was well and truly off the pace. I love Jack but he was as poor as Grant Holt is fat, and although we reacted quickly when Norwich went ahead, that particular change should have happened sooner. I thought Norwich got very lucky for their goal. They might complain afterwards about our penalty and Walcott being offside for the third, but I didn’t hear them mention the fact that Kamara tripped himself up for the free kick which led to the opening goal.

Our defending of that set-piece left something to be desired, for sure. Turner had a free header which he directed into the bottom corner, but it wasn’t a free kick to begin with. When they scored Grant Holt ate a sandwich. And some pudding. And after going ahead they sat ever deeper, looking to hold onto their lead and parking a bus, a lorry, a container truck and a van full of treacle for Holt to lick off a spoon.

We should have had a penalty when Walcott was barged over in box, and when Podolski smashed a volley off the bar after a great chest down from Giroud, it looked as if it was going to be one of those days. But after brilliant work from the tireless Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal won a corner, Giroud was clearly dragged down by Kamara, the referee was happy to play on but his assistant flagged for the spot kick.

The outrage from Norwich players and pundits alike was so delicious Grant Holt tried to eat it. What does it matter if the linesman is miles away if he gets it right? So what if the referee is closer, it doesn’t mean he got it any less wrong. The Norwich keeper was booked in the aftermath of the award, possibly the most righteous booking ever seen, and as their players tried to rattle Arteta as he waited to take it, the Lego-haired Spaniard just stood there, ignoring them, the rain rolling off his perfect hair.

That the keeper got a hand to the penalty makes it even more hilarious. I can imagine him sitting at home afterwards thinking ‘Oh, if only …’ and I do take great pleasure in the pain of others, especially when they’re time-wasting cockblasters who, all of a sudden, wish they had more of it. The penalty was strong enough to go in, and Arsenal were level.

A couple of minutes later, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took off in the direction of the Norwich box. He played a one-two with Podolski, got to the byline and stuck it across goal for either Giroud or a defender to stab it home. Giroud’s claiming it, I’m happy to give it him, but it was made by the direct running of the Ox. On a day when we lacked that kind of penetration, it was timely, to say the least.

Fabianski then made a fantastic save with his feet as Norwich almost equalised straight from the kick off. Grant Holt munched a king sized jar of Nutella in frustration, and then Arsenal made the game safe. Theo Walcott was offside, for sure, and he looked determined to ignore the waiting Podolski before he accidentally played a pass to him which the German curled into the bottom corner to make it 3-1.

Game safe, game over, three points under our belts, and while it did feel a bit like we got out of jail, that’s a good feeling. At this point of the season it doesn’t really matter how you win, once you win. Holt trudged off the field picking at the reserves of marshmallow he keeps in his belly-button for emergencies.

Afterwards, Arsene Wenger said:

It is a question of nerves and I think the win today was a balance of nerves, quality and intelligence. In the end we didn’t do anything stupid when we were 1-0 down, and kept facing our game.

What is important is to keep our run going and the consistency of our wins. That is important.

It sets us up nicely for a tough game on Tuesday against Everton, and the manager will have to have a good think about his team. What’s encouraging, I think, is that yesterday’s performance was kind of what I was worried about yesterday. I don’t think we were complacent in any way, but we really struggled to get on top of the game in the face of some stubborn Norwich resistance.

Having gone behind, in typical fashion it must be said, this was a game we could easily have lost. I suspect it’s a game we would have lost earlier in the season, so you have to give credit to the team for fighting right until the end. If there was an element of good fortune to it, so be it. They got lucky for their goal, it’s hardly a massive scandal that it worked both ways, despite the shrill bleating of some people. Credit too to the manager whose substitutions had the desired impact. He gets pelters when it goes wrong, so some kudos when it’s right seems fair.

Finally, a word for Aaron Ramsey. I thought he was our stand out player on the day, and if his energy and work-rate had been matched by more of his teammates then I don’t think it would have been so difficult yesterday. He kept his game simple, did his best to drive the team and put pressure on the opposition, and he deserved to be on the winning side. His progress is really encouraging, especially when you consider how he’s come through a very difficult patch of form, and he deserves the props this morning.

Right, that’s that. A couple of days rest and a midweek fixture on the horizon, football is great on mornings like this.

Till tomorrow.

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