Arsenal’s hopes for third place in the Premier League were dented, after they were held to a dramatic 3-3 draw by Norwich City at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
The Gunners made a stunning start with Yossi Benayoun curling in a shot with barely a minute gone but this was just the beginning of a see-saw afternoon.
Calamity defending and a huge goalkeeping error by Wojciech Szczesny meant the Canaries were ahead by half-time.
On 12 minutes, Jonathan Howson found space down the right-hand side. His cross was towards goal by Wesley Hoolahan, but the keeper somehow fumbled the low ball over the line at the near post.
The visitors went ahead just before the half-hour. Again the Arsenal defence was caught short of cover as Hoolahan threaded through for Holt to hit a shot that looped up off Gibbs and over Szczesny.
Arsenal’s situation became even worse when Bacary Sagna was forced to withdraw with what was later confirmed as a broken leg.
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The Gunners continued to look nervous after the half-time interval and only seriously began to threaten Norwich after the introduction of on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Aaron Ramsey and Marouane Chamakh who replaced Benayoun.
The tactical change by Arsène Wenger was crucial in putting pressure on the Canaries back-four, that until this period had coped easily with just Robin van Persie up-front for Arsenal. Also, Oxlade-Chamberlain gave the Gunners a much-needed injection of pace that had been lacking.
Eighteen minutes from time, Arsenal drew level. Chamakh’s shot was blocked but the rebound fell to Alex Song. The midfielder chipped a fine pass to Van Persie, who made no mistake to fire home on the volley, his 29th Premier League goal of the season.
The newly crowned PFA and Football Writer’s Player of the Year then doubled his tally after Tomas Rosicky passed to Oxlade-Chamberlain. The subs subsequent pass deflected perfectly into the path of van Persie, who made no mistake sliding home his second and his 30th in the League, equalling Thierry Henry’s Club record from 2003-04.
The Gunners had turned the game on its head and needed to hold for 10 minutes to take the three points.
However, poor defending and casualness from both the back-four and midfield, once again let the Canaries back in.
Steve Morison was the benefactor on 85 minutes when a poor pass from Alex Song was intercepted. With Kieran Gibbs and Thomas Vermaelen out of position, Morison escaped on the right and arrowed his cross-shot just inside the far post.
The Gunners still had chances to take the lead again and should definitely have had a penalty when Kyle Naughton pushed van Persie over – and into the net, with the goal at his mercy.
The winning goal didn’t materialize and both Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United could not take advantage of Arsenal’s poor result. The Gunners, therefore remain in third place and know victory at West Bromwich Albion on the final day will guarantee them third place.
As you can see from the statistics above (via our Stats Centre powered by Opta) Arsenal dominated possession by 63% to 37%, but Norwich tellingly scored three goals from four efforts on target.
The lack of defensive cover offered by Arsenal’s midfield against Norwich City was crucial. In terms of tackles, the midfield trio of Ramsey, Song and Rosicky made three attempted tackles from nine by the whole team. Indeed, Song who is considered to be the defensive midfielder in the side made none. Although Song did provide an exquisite assist for van Persie’s first goal, the midfielder had a difficult afternoon. In the Premier League this season, Song’s passing accuracy is 84.3% but dipped to 73% (with only 49/67 finding a team-mate) on Saturday.
Also, the Arsenal midfield trio was dispossessed 41 times, Rosicky (11) and Song (24) the biggest culprits.
This key facet of the game was crucial, as losing possession in key areas gave Arsenal’s back-four less time to re-group and meant Norwich could counter effectively and score their goals.
Indeed, had it not been for an exceptional performance by Laurent Koscielny, the result may have been even worse. The French defender made a telling contribution in every department. He was the top performer in terms of clearances (9), interceptions (5), fouls won (3), tackles (5), ground duels (12) and aerials (4). He also won back possession eight times in the defensive third and his passing accuracy was a very respectable 83% (45/54).