By Josh Clarke at the Emirates Stadium
‘Spirit and nerve’ were the principal characteristics Arsene Wenger identified in Arsenal’s late and brutal turnaround against Norwich.
And, of course, Wenger is right. The 3-1 win against the Canaries – which lifts the Gunners above Chelsea and Tottenham into third place in the Premier League table – will rightly be remembered for its resolve and emphatic nature.
It was a resounding win, yet one that came with its fair share of insecurities, a forthcoming exploration of which could prove more valuable to Arsenal than the three points that were plundered.
|ARSENAL 3-1 NORWICH
|MATCH REPORT: Gunners leapfrog Spurs with Norwich late show|
|TOP OF THE MATCH: Giroud proves decisive to down stubborn Canaries|
Arsenal’s first-half domination generated little but a glut of spurned opportunities, the knowledge that any notion of a Gervinho rebirth is slightly comical and the suggestion that Jack Wilshere might, yet again, have been rushed back into action a little too hastily.
Michael Turner was gifted a free header to put the visitors into the lead, while the lethargy that characterised the majority of Arsenal’s second half would have proved their downfall in times gone by.
Even then, if you choose to get picky, each of Arsenal’s three goals – scored within the space of seven minutes – had its moment, or even moments, of contention.
For the first, the referee’s assistant believed Kei Kamara felled Olivier Giroud in the box, though Mike Jones himself didn’t think it was a penalty. Giroud certainly didn’t either. Was the corner that led to the incident the correct decision anyway? It didn’t look like it. After making a partial block on Mikel Arteta’s spot-kick, could Mark Bunn have kept it out? It wouldn’t be unfair to say Arsenal rode their luck.
Regardless - that passage proved the most fortuitous catalyst for an upturn in Arsenal’s fortunes and their second goal, though it’s still difficult to tell, saw Sebastien Bassong bundle into his own net after Giroud applied pressure, while there was certainly a whiff of offside surrounding Theo Walcott as he assisted Lukas Podolski in sinking the third.
Though Wenger’s trio of substitutes – Podolski, Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – were instrumental in swinging the game the Gunners’ way, it became painfully evident that Arsenal thrived off the erstwhile absent pace and urgency. There are undoubtedly many schools of thought on the system and personnel that best suits Arsenal and I’d bet few fans would be in universal agreement as to which one it is. They wouldn’t be too much the wiser after yesterday either.
You might say such pessimism is unwarranted but against a side embroiled in a vicious downward spiral like Norwich, the late, late show just about sufficed. Whether such a lax display over the course of 90 minutes will do the trick at home to Everton on Tuesday, though, remains debatable.
David Moyes’ side are chasing Champions League football themselves and in the likes of Marouane Fellani, Leighton Baines and Kevin Mirallas boast the kind of menace that may have left Arsenal in tatters yesterday.
When the two sides met at Goodison Park in November they produced a lively 1-1 draw in which Walcott got the visitors off to the perfect start with a goal after 51 seconds. But despite taking that early lead the Gunners were not convincing, and on 28 minutes Steven Pienaar hustled Bacary Sagna into conceding possession, allowing Fellaini to pounce 20 yards from goal and fire a low left-footed shot past Wojciech Szczesny.
Everton also had a decent shout for a penalty when their former player Mikel Arteta appeared to tug Pienaar back as he broke into the area, but fortunately for Arsenal referee Michael Oliver was unimpressed.
Both sides have improved since then, and perhaps a more relevant pointer for Wenger and his players was Everton's performance on their last trip to north London. That was just a week ago at White Hart Lane when David Moyes's team, missing the suspended Fellaini and Pienaar, fell behind to an even earlier goal - from ex-Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor after a mere 33 seconds - but levelled through Phil Jagielka and took the lead with an excellent individual effort from Mirallas. Spurs required an 87th minute equaliser from Gylfi Sigurdsson to rescue a point in their own quest for a top-four finish.
A win for the Toffees at the Emirates would mean a single point separating the teams in third place down to sixth. At this stage of the season, those are fine margins indeed, particularly when bearing in mind the prizes at stake.
Much has been said of Arsenal’s undefeated streak when taking the lead in the Premier League this season and yesterday’s result drew attention to their contrary ability to battle back from a deficit.
Seven wins in the last eight outings is obviously nothing to scoff at but it would be criminal for the squad, who clearly have a taste for goals and for victory, to allow complacency or slipping standards to settle in, especially now they’ve muscled themselves into the driving seat.
A more straightforward victory yesterday – perhaps, for example, a couple of early goals accompanied by subsequent cruise-control - would have masked deficiencies that could potentially derail the Gunners’ run down the home straight.
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with ‘spirit and nerve’ with a bit of luck mixed in for good measure – it got the job done on this occasion. It’s just that ruthlessness and efficiency may have been more reassuring.
Either way, Norwich have delivered a handy wake-up call, free of charge, that should see Arsenal realise the enviable winning streak they’ve put together isn’t totally infallible.