On the opening day of the Premier League season in August 1992, Norwich City won at Arsenal. Among the many subsequent changes in football, Arsenal have moved home and Norwich been to the third tier and back, but one constant has been the Canaries' inability to repeat that feat. To judge from their luck yesterday they never will.
Norwich came for a point, but so nearly got three. Having soaked up nearly an hour of Arsenal pressure, Norwich scored with their first effort on goal, a Michael Turner header. Arsenal passed and passed but rarely looked like equalising until being awarded a highly controversial 85th-minute penalty which was tucked away by Mikael Arteta. A second, turned in by Sébastien Bassong under pressure from Olivier Giroud, who claimed the goal, put Arsenal ahead.
A sweetly-taken strike by Lukas Podolski, which should have been disallowed as Theo Walcott was offside earlier in the move, put a flattering gloss on a scoreline which enabled Arsenal to move third in the Premier League.
Chris Hughton, the Norwich manager, spoke to the officials after the game and while he said the conversation was private, he said he was not convinced by their explanation. "I accept there is some contact by [Kei] Kamara [on Giroud] but he swivels and plays the ball. On most occasions they are not given – or if they are, they are given by the ref. My grievance is the linesman makes the decision from 45-50 yards away and the ref, eight to 10yards away, has an absolutely perfect view." The same linesman, noted Hughton, then failed to see an offside under his nose.
Norwich remain in peril, four points off the drop having played more matches than three of the four teams immediately below them but, said the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger: "If they play like that, they will not go down. They caused us problems."
"We have opportunities [with the fixtures coming up]," said Hughton, "but we have to take them. Sometimes if you feel a little bit aggrieved that can generate something in the lads." Hughton made a trio of changes from the team held at home by Swansea last weekend bringing in Steven Whittaker, Alexander Tettey and Grant Holt. Kamara moved to the right flank in a five-man midfield. It soon became clear City were seeking the stalemate that would edge them nearer safety, happy to concede possession until Arsenal came within 30 yards of goal.
Arsenal pinned their hopes on breaking down the yellow wall on Jack Wilshere, returning after five weeks and four matches out, all of which Arsenal had won. He, though, was quiet. Wenger said he would not have played had Tomas Rosicky been fit. Wenger made two other changes recalling Kieran Gibbs and Thomas Vermaelen.
Gervinho was the most lively forward but even the rejuvenated version is deeply frustrating. A couple of his early breaks came to naught then, just before the half-hour, with City's defence uncommonly high, Santi Cazorla released the Ivorian. However, Gervinho over-hit the ball as he rounded Mark Bunn. By the time he caught it Gervinho was so wide he could only roll the ball across the face of the goal.
Giroud was Arsenal's other threat, glancing a Bacary Sagna header onto the bar after 24 minutes then bringing a sharp save from Bunn following another Sagna cross.
Half-time came and went with no change in the pattern until Gibbs tripped Kamara in a tangle of legs. As Robert Snodgrass floated in the free-kick, Turner lost Vermaelen to head in unchallenged.
Wenger brought on Walcott and Podolski, then Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but Norwich should have doubled their lead when Bassong broke 60 yards then fed Russell Martin only for the full-back to shoot straight at Lukasz Fabanski.
When Bunn turned a Podolski volley against the bar it seemed as if it was going to be one of those days for Arsenal. Then, with seven minutes remaining, they were erroneously awarded a corner. That seemed not to matter as the ball bounced around the penalty box before being cleared. But Richard West, the referee's assistant, flagged and buzzed referee Mike Jones who awarded a penalty.
West and Jones were surrounded by Norwich players, as was Arteta, but he despatched the kick nervelessly. Three minutes later, Oxlade-Chamberlain wriggled into the area and Bassong was unable to clear. Even then it was not over, for Jonny Howson would have levelled but for a fine save by Fabianski.
The award of six minutes injury-time did not ease the nerves of Arsenal's supporters, but Podolski did. Giroud flicked a long ball on to Walcott who though offside was allowed to work the ball to the German who scored his first goal for two months.