Norwich City. .4
SO MUCH for the so-called super-powers. Arsenal, favourites for the inaugural Premier League title, were cruising to a convincing victory with an hour gone at Highbury yesterday - until Mark Robins came off the bench. The 22-year-old striker scored twice on his debut to help engineer an astonishing late turnaround as Norwich hit back with four goals.
George Graham, the Arsenal manager, saw the goals as 'four individual errors', but they were all despatched with precision by the jubilant visitors. Particularly Robins. Unwanted by Manchester United, for whom he contributed 11 goals in 48 League games, the former England under-21 player signed for Norwich only five minutes before Friday's transfer deadline. With strikers changing hands at more than pounds 2m, Robins looks a bargain at pounds 800,000.
His pace and ball control proved too much for Arsenal's tall central defensive pair of Steve Bould and Tony Adams, who were clearly convinced they were 'coasting' - in Graham's opinion - to victory. Bould had headed in the first, from Nigel Winterburn's drilled free-kick in the 27th minute as Arsenal, driven on by the excellent John Jensen, ran rampant. Kevin Campbell, who could have had a hat-trick, added the second seven minutes before half-time, turning John Polston for the umpteenth time before beating Bryan Gunn from 16 yards.
Arsenal's illusion lasted until the hour. Mike Walker, the Canaries' canny new manager, was fidgeting on the bench as his team were being out-gunned by the Gunners. He turned to Robins. 'I said to him jokingly, 'We'll stick you on for the last bit and you can stick in a couple of goals,' ' Walker said. Robins, the perfect professional, obeyed his manager, scoring his first in the 68th minute with his third touch as a City player. David Phillips swept over a long free-kick from right to left, and Robins dashed in to direct a flashing header past David Seaman. 'He was the smallest player in the penalty area when the free- kick came over and he still got to it,' Walker said. 'It was a natural goal-scorer's goal.' Graham was less charitable. 'Bould didn't pick him up,' he said.
Norwich's players, disappointed at the departure of Robert Fleck to Chelsea and demoralised by Arsenal's attacking verve, were suddenly full of belief. Jeremy Goss delivered a speculative cross from the right in the 72nd minute, which was dropping nicely for Seaman. The Arsenal keeper flapped and Phillips at the far post found the empty net with a straightforward volley. Graham rightly blamed his goalkeeper, whose display all afternoon gave little hint of any international calibre.
Bould was again the target of Graham's displeasure over Norwich's third nine minutes from time as Ruel Fox broke through and flipped the ball under an exposed Seaman.
Norwich's fourth, adding insult to Arsenal's ignominy, came from a horrendous mistake by Adams, the Gunners' captain standing on the ball with Robins lurking. It was 'almost laughable', Graham said. Robins even had time for a smile as, with Adams in a heap at his feet, he calmly chipped Seaman from 25 yards to complete an extraordinary comeback. Norwich's new darling dashed over to the enclosure where the visiting fans were dancing and soaked up the adulation as they sang their hearts out in almost delirious disbelief. Robins had managed mission impossible, and nobody will be calling Walker's team favourites for relegation now.
Whether Arsenal's odds as prospective champions change is another matter. They invariably have one horror match per season, but have too much talent in depth to struggle for long. Ian Wright, last season's top scorer, was on the bench until the last 20 minutes and when he is fully fit they will be up with the best. The only real bonus for Graham was the performance of Jensen, who tackled well and passed even better. The North Bank is currently closed for re-building - an artist's mural of smiling people sitting quietly in their seats conceals the work - so at least the regulars were not there to witness the humiliation.
Arsenal: D Seaman; L Dixon, N Winterburn, D Hillier, S Bould, T Adams, J Jensen, A Smith, K Campbell, P Merson (I Wright, 72), A Limpar. Substitutes not used: C Pates, A Miller. Manager: G Graham.
Norwich City: B Gunn; I Culverhouse, M Bowen, I Butterworth, J Polston, G Megson (I Crook, 86), R Fox, R Newman, C Sutton (M Robins, 58), J Goss, D Phillips. Substitute not used: M Walton. Manager: M Walker.
Referee: A Gunn (South Chailey, Sussex).
Goals: Bould (1-0, 27 min); Campbell (2-0, 38 min); Robins (2-1, 68 min); Phillips (2-2, 72 min); Fox (2-3, 81 min); Robins (2-4, 83 min).
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