Sunday, 14 April 2013

Arsenal Beat Norwich And Prepare For Everton

Arsenal played Norwich on Saturday afternoon knowing that a win would move them up to third in the Premier League. With neither Chelsea or Spurs playing it was an ideal opportunity for Arsenal to put some real pressure on both of those teams. Arsenal had won six of their seven previous league games and Norwich had only won one in 15 before.

Arsenal had lost 1-0 away to Norwich earlier in the season in what was probably their worst display of the season. They were sure to park the bus and look to hit Arsenal on the break and Arsenal were going to have to be at their best from first minute to last. The team had looked very good in recent weeks though and were having no problems scoring goals at home.

Arsene Wenger made a few changes from the team that won 2-1 away to West Brom last week, but two of them was enforced. Jack Wilshere came back into the team after his injury absence with Tomas Rosicky missing out with a slight injury. Captain Thomas Vermaelen came in for the suspended Per Mertesacker in the centre of defence and I hoped he could rediscover his form.

The real surprise for me was the inclusion of Kieran Gibbs at left back at the expense of Nacho Monreal. I have been impressed by Monreal since his signing in late January and he played well enough to keep his place in my opinion. Maybe the boss felt he could rotate his left backs as they're both very good, but he probably shouldn't have tinkered with that part of the team at least.

Arsenal made all the play in the first half and Norwich offered virtually nothing as an attacking force. Olivier Giroud almost scored twice, but he was denied by the crossbar an an instinctive save from Mark Bunn. Gervinho had a very good chance too but he overhit the ball in trying to go around the keeper and ended up with too difficult an angle to score. As the first half drew to a close I thought Arsenal's intensity dropped off and they needed to find something extra in the second half.

The game took a turn in Norwich's favour 10 minutes after the break when they scored from a set piece. Kieran Gibbs was adjudged to have taken down a Norwich player just outside the Arsenal penalty area on the left hand side as he ran across the back of him. It looked like a dive to me, but little was made of that after the game as the pundits concentrated on the events surrounding Arsenal's equalising goal in particular.

Very soon after the goal the boss made a couple of changes to try to get Arsenal back into the game. Wilshere and Gervinho were withdrawn with Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski coming on from a very strong Arsenal bench. Those switches saw the two subs take up the wide positions with Santi Cazorla switching to his favoured role at the attacking point of the midfield.

Gradually Arsenal started to exert more pressure on Norwich, but it didn't look like they were going to get the goal or goals they needed. Norwich missed a very good opportunity on the break as Arsenal threw caution to the wind in search of that elusive goal. With 10 minutes remaining Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for Bacary Sagna as Arsenal got more and ore desperate.

With just over five minutes to go they got the break they needed when the assistant referee awarded them a penalty after Kei Kamara pulled Giroud's shirt following an Arsenal corner. The referee was an awful lot closer to the incident, but his assistant had a much better view of it as he could see directly at the front of the players where it took place. I have no doubt that it was a penalty despite the protestations of so many pundits after the game.

The assistant is there to help the referee and he did just that by awarding a clear penalty he had seen. It doesn't matter that the referee was much close as he could not see through the two players involved and Kamara was pulling the front of Giroud's shirt. Maybe those same pundits should have taken some time to look at the dive which led to Norwich's goal.

Anyway Mikael Arteta stepped up and slotted the penalty home although Bunn got a hand to it and almost managed to keep it out. The momentum was well and truly with Arsenal now and they went in search of a winning goal. It didn't take long for them to get that goal and Norwich were good enough to help them out by putting through their own goal this time.

Chamberlain took the ball at the Norwich defence and played a very good one two with Podolski before cutting the ball across the Norwich goal. As Giroud tried to prod it home he was beaten to it by ex Spurs player Sebastien Bassong to put Arsenal ahead. There was just over a minute to go and Arsenal were in the lead and only had to hold on to move into third place.

Of course it's never that easy with Arsenal and Norwich had a great chance within a minute, but thankfully Lukasz Fabianski made another good save with his feet. The fourth official showed six added minutes and I must admit I was more than a little concerned. As it turned out I shouldn't have been as Arsenal added to their lead in added time with Podolski finishing well from the edge of the box after Walcott had set him up.

The controversy after the game was about Arsenal's equaliser but their other two goals were hardly straight forward either. Giroud looking to be pulling the shirt of Bassong for the second goal and Walcott was certainly offside for the third goal. Ther was also the dive which led to Norwich's goal, but none of it mattered as Arsenal took the three points.

The team will have to play an awful lot better to beat Everton on Tuesday night, but the boss has plenty of options available to him for that game. Mertesacker will be back from suspension and it looks like Rosicky will be available too. He also has to decide between Gibbs and Monreal as well picking his midfield and attack.

Aaron Ramsey played very well again on Saturday and will feel he deserves to keep his place. Wilshere probably should have started from the bench against Norwich and looked far from match fit on his return from injury.Both Walcott and Podolski will think they did enough from the bench in the final 30 minutes to start against Everton.

The Arsenal bench in that game should be a very strong one with loads of options for the boss if he wants to change things at any stage of the game. A win would be a fantastic result for Arsenal as it would put space between them and the teams below them as well as realistically knocking Everton out of the fight for a top four finish. It won't be an easy task though and I'll be looking at that task a little closer to the game.

For now Arsenal are third in the league and ahead of local rivals Spurs with six games left to play for both teams. The momentum has swung in their favour and the seven point gap Spurs had has completely disappeared in only four games. It seems like a long time ago when they beat Arsenal 2-1 and their fans thought they were finally going to finish ahead of Arsenal.

I'm not saying Arsenal are the finished article and will definitely finish above Spurs, but they have given themselves every chance of doing so. They still have some tough games to go and there is bound to be loads of drama between now and the end of the season. For the moment I'm very happy to see Arsenal where they are and know that their destiny is in their own hands.

Here's the highlights from Saturday's game.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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