Arsenal’s first goal enshrined a philosophy and distilled a lifetime’s devotion to football’s finer qualities. It flowed from deep in their half through one man, Jack Wilshere, but it was a team effort, a gem of speed, synchronicity and skill.
Their second and fourth goals re-iterated the old link between informed speculation and inevitable accumulation. They were scored by Mesut Özil. He was duly serenaded by supporters, who sang his name to the tune they used to reserve for the peerless Denis Bergkamp.
The third, Aaron Ramsey’s 11th of the season, was another mesmeric example of individuality. He took out two defenders with a single surge and a shimmy, turned inside past another desperate challenge, and scored with ease.
Arsène Wenger permitted himself a shy smile and a thumbs-up salute. Anyone fortunate enough to be at the Emirates yesterday afternoon would have shared his joy. He has preached patience, defied a culture of instant gratification. It takes courage to cling to deeply-held beliefs and the rewards, when they come, must be savoured.
This was the sort of victory Wenger wanted on the Premier League’s resumption after the international break. He was seeking signs of hunger, examples of individual and collective quality. The performance was imperfect, but since Arsenal reaffirmed their place at the top of the table no one was complaining.
The portents were discouraging. It was exactly a year, to the day, that Arsenal’s season began to unravel with a 1-0 defeat at Norwich. A repeat of the three month slump, which that loss triggered, is unthinkable; Wenger’s task now is to dampen premature expectation.
Norwich were neat, pragmatic rather than negative. They were in the ascendancy either side of half time and harboured realistic hopes of an equaliser once Jonny Howson punished a weak Per Mertesacker clearance with a low drive from inside the box.
But 2-1 became 4-1 with disconcerting speed. “That doesn’t reflect the balance of play,” argued Norwich manager Chris Hughton, with some justification. “When you try to get a draw, Arsenal can pick you off.”
Even a side of Borussia Dortmund’s stature will have cause to pause before Tuesday’s Champions League tie at the Emirates. Wenger insisted, with admirable restraint, that it was “a bit early” to legitimise comparisons with his old Invincibles. He did however indulge himself with the opening goal, which has not been bettered anywhere this season.
It began, and ended, with Wilshere. He fed the ball to the excellent Kieran Gibbs, who released Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard exchanged passes with Wilshere, who did the same with Giroud with a backheeled flick.
Wilshere kept running through a static defence, took Giroud’s caressed return, and scored with a calm low shot past John Ruddy. For someone who had not scored for 54 Premier League matches, before his equaliser at the Hawthorns a fortnight ago, he looked unnervingly confident in front of goal.
“That was one of the best, most enjoyable, goals I have seen us score,” acknowledged Wenger. “It had everything you want. It combined speed and calmness, improvisation and technique. All our goals were great but that was exceptional.”
His principles are pristine. He speaks of commitment to a certain style, and promises to produce home-grown players. He clearly sees £42.5million on Özil as a statement of intent.
He is artfully ambiguous. He allows headline writers to suggest he has his sights on the Premier League title when he merely speaks of his “huge ambition” to do so. He is “confident that at the end of May, we will be happy” without saying what that feel-good factor will be.
He was being disingenuous when he suggested “nobody knew” Laurent Koscielny before his £8.5 million move to Arsenal in 2010. Several scouts of my acquaintance were recommending him as far back as 2007, when he emerged in the French Second Division with Tours.
Similarly, it stretched credibility to claim “not many people” knew Olivier Giroud. He was a high profile figure in the impossibly romantic story of Montpellier, an unfashionable club in a rugby town, winning the French League title against all odds.
Yet when Arsenal play with such style, it is natural to forgive him. Giroud has improved immeasurably in his second season, and looks a shrewd signing.
It was a flawed performance, because Arsenal struggled to cope with the loss of Mathieu Flamini. He suffered concussion after headbutting Alexander Tettey, which is as advisable as attempting to plant a Glasgow Kiss on the Forth Road Bridge. His is Arsenal’s only headache.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szcezesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Flamini (Ramsey 37); Wilshere, Özil, Cazorla (Rosicky 59); Giroud (Bendtner 78). Subs not used: Vermaelen, Monreal, Fabianski, Jenkinson.
Norwich (4-1-4-1): Ruddy; Martin, Turner, Bassong, Olsson; Tettey (Hoolahan 78); Pilkington (Redmond 70), Fer, Howson, Snodgrass; Hooper. Subs not used: Whittaker, Johnson, Bunn, Becchio, Bennett.
Referee: Lee Probert.
Man of the match: Wilshere (Arsenal)
Match rating: 8/10
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