Friday 15 December 2017

Wenger relying on favours after Morison damages top-four bid

Arsenal 3 Norwich 3

In keeping with this season of the sublime and the ridiculous, Arsenal and Norwich served up a see-sawing draw that dripped with drama.

When it was finally over, Arsenal's players were crestfallen. They have not won in their last four games, dropping nine points out of a possible 12, and this ill-timed dip in form takes Champions League qualification out of their hands. If Tottenham and Newcastle win their remaining matches, Arsenal will be pipped at the post.

In Norwich, they came up against the most gutsy of opponents, who delivered a performance that delighted Paul Lambert. Even though Arsenal clawed their way back from a 2-1 deficit into a winning position, Steve Morison slammed in an equaliser, five minutes from the end, that has potentially worrying consequences for Arsene Wenger's team.

Such a setback seemed unlikely as Arsenal got off to a flying start courtesy of Yossi Benayoun's virtuoso strike. In the second minute, the Israeli gathered possession on the corner of the penalty area, befuddled Kyle Naughton with a little shimmy, and bent a beautiful shot past John Ruddy.

Norwich responded with terrific determination, and no small amount of invention. They drew level when Wes Hoolahan met Naughton's cutback, though Wojciech Szczesny was left acutely embarrassed as he struggled to react. The ball bounced off him and dribbled into the goal. It was the worst moment of an uncharacteristically shaky performance.

This was one of those days when the Arsenal defence had shambles written all over it, and Norwich duly took the lead midway through the first half. With Arsenal outnumbered at the back, Norwich motored forward. Hoolahan dinked a pass to Grant Holt, whose effort took a sharp deflection off Kieran Gibbs's boot.

And the mood soon turned even more despairing when Bacary Sagna was taken off the pitch on a stretcher with a fractured fibula that rules him out of France's Euro 2012 campaign. Arsenal were struggling. They lacked fluency, concentration, and were clearly feeling the pressure, too.

Lambert also felt Norwich should have had at least one penalty. Francis Coquelin, filling in for Sagna, made a last-ditch tackle on Hoolahan. Then Laurent Koscielny had a handful of Russell Martin's shirt.

"When I see some decisions it can drive you mad. Several times it could have been 3-1 when we tore through the heart of them," said Lambert.

His side ought to have taken a more emphatic lead in with them at half-time. Arsenal were jeered off. In the second half the home side stepped it up, with Robin van Persie, inevitably, the man with the ability to drag his team back into the game.

It was the familiar sight of Alex Song chipping an assist for Van Persie that finally released the tension gripping the Emirates Stadium. Goal number 36 for the season brought Arsenal level. Goal 37 brought pandemonium.

A move went from Gervinho to Tomas Rosicky, via Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and suddenly Van Persie was in. He took aim with his right foot and beat Ruddy.

Norwich, though, were not finished. When substitute Morison broke clear of the Arsenal rearguard, as Szczesny dithered about whether to come or stay on his line, the Welshman finished with aplomb into the bottom corner.

"We gave them the third goal with a situation that is absolutely unbelievable," said Wenger. "There were five or six mistakes in the same move. It is more than frustrating."

The pendulum swung back again. Oxlade-Chamberlain broke free down the right and crossed for Van Persie, who was bundled over in the box by Naughton. No penalty, according to referee Anthony Taylor.

Arsenal's late siege threatened a winner, but Ruddy and his colleagues withstood it all. "Marvellous," said Lambert.


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