Arsenal 3-3 Norwich
Sat, 05 May 2012 16:57:34
The Gunners went ahead after just over a minute through Yossi Benayoun, before Wes Hoolahan and Grant Holt sent the away side into a deserved lead before half-time.
After a number of near-misses by Norwich at the start of the second half, Robin van Persie was on hand to level matters and then take his side ahead eight minutes later, grabbing his 30th goal of the season in the process.
But Norwich were to have the last laugh when Steve Morison hit a superb equaliser from a tight angle to earn his side a point.
The result leaves the Gunners in third place, with one game left to play, but just two points above Spurs and Newcastle who both have two games left and the chance to overhaul Arsenal before the season's end.
Arsene Wenger stuck with the same side that secured a 1-1 draw against Stoke last weekend, as Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho continued to deputise for the injured pair of Mikel Arteta and Theo Walcott.
However, the Canaries made five changes to the side who were put to the sword against Liverpool by Luis Suarez's hat-trick last time out.
In a bold move, Simon Lappin came in for the injured Adam Drury for only his third league start this season. Elliott Ward, David Fox, Anthony Pilkington and Morison all dropped to the bench as Holt, Hoolahan, Russell Martin and Simeon Jackson came in in their place.
The Gunners made the perfect start as Benayoun, celebrating his 32nd birthday, sent his side ahead after just 70 seconds with a fine curling effort from the left-hand side of the penalty area.
Kieran Gibbs’ run down the flank dragged the Norwich defence away from the Israel international, giving him time to pick a shot and find the far corner with a plush finish.
The Canaries responded brilliantly and could, and perhaps should, have equalised just five minutes later when Holt's first-time effort from 15 yards out, provided by Jackson’s cut-back, was brilliantly blocked by Gibbs before Wojciech Szczesny could be tested.
However, just moments after an unconvincing punch from a corner, Szczesny was found wanting again when Kyle Naughton, on loan from the Gunners’ north London rivals Tottenham, took advantage of space on the left to find Hoolahan 12 yards out. The shot was tame, but Szczesny’s attempt to collect was even weaker as the ball bounced off the Poland international’s gloves and trickled over the line.
With a reputation to be hesitant in pulling the trigger, Arsenal were lethargic by even their own standards, showing no impetus to regain the lead. And they paid for it.
Holt found Hoolahan near the halfway line and stormed forward looking for the return. The midfielder obliged and the resulting shot from the edge of the box took a big deflection off the backtracking Gibbs and looped up and over Szczesny to send the Canaries 2-1 up with the striker's 14th league goal of the season.
Arsenal came racing out of the traps from the restart and Van Persie came within inches to levelling matters when sliding in to reach Bacary Sagna’s low cross into the away side’s penalty box.
That was, however, to be Sagna’s last action of the match as, moment later, when stretching to stop a Norwich clearance from going into touch, the right-back appeared to land awkwardly on his ankle and was subsequently stretched off, being replaced by Francis Coquelin.
The substitute’s first contribution was to foul Jonny Howson inside the Arsenal box, but, if that appeal was not strong enough, Lambert was fuming on the touchline after Laurent Koscielny hauled Martin to ground inside the area just moments later.
Replays showed a clear foul on Martin, but the protests from the Canaries were waved away immediately by referee Anthony Taylor.
Norwich could have gone into the break with an even stronger advantage when another cut-back from the wing found Holt 10 yards out, with only a superb last-ditch challenge by Koscielny preventing the striker from extending his side’s lead.
The shaky Arsenal defence had not learnt from their mistakes in the first half when, just six minutes into the second period, Norwich broke after a failed Gunners’ attack to allow Jackson the chance to grab his side’s third, only to be denied by Szczesny.
Just before the hour mark, Benayoun missed a glorious opportunity to equalise when he was afforded a free header from Alex Song’s free kick, but from six yards out he arrowed it straight at John Ruddy.
That was the start of a frantic five minutes as then Norwich had two chances to score, with Naughton and Jackson failing to hit the target when in good positions before Van Persie and Ramsey, a tame shot straight at the goalkeeper and a complete miscue respectively, added to the profligacy.
Arsenal grew in confidence as the clocked ticked down, but a resolute Canaries defence continued to hold on, throwing themselves in the way of Tomas Rosicky’s crisp effort from 18 yards out and a tricky run and shot by Gervinho.
But, as the intensity of the home side’s attacks increased, so did the gaps in the Norwich defence.
Arsenal levelled matter on 72 minutes when Elliott Bennett’s strong block, from a Marouane Chamakh shot, rebounded to a lurking Song 25 yards out who looked up and lofted an inch-perfect angled cross for Van Persie to sidefoot home past Ruddy.
And it took Van Persie just eight more minutes to send the Gunners back into the lead when he pounced on Rosicky's pass forward to slide the ball underneath Ruddy and to draw level with Theirry Henry's club record of 30 Premier League goals in one season.
But Norwich had the last laugh when second-half substitute Morison ran onto Howson’s dinked pass over the Gunners’ defence and fire low across Szczesny to grab his side a thoroughly deserved point.