Arsenal boring again (they always win 4-1 away)

Norwich City 1 - Arsenal 4
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The Independent Online

Call it the curse of excellence. Michael Schumacher, Pete Sampras and Stephen Hendry have stood accused and now it is Arsenal's turn. Once they were described as "boring, boring" because of the way they ground out one-nil wins. Now the criticism is that their victories are too predictable.

Call it the curse of excellence. Michael Schumacher, Pete Sampras and Stephen Hendry have stood accused and now it is Arsenal's turn. Once they were described as "boring, boring" because of the way they ground out one-nil wins. Now the criticism is that their victories are too predictable.

The inevitable trouncing of Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday - their second successive 4-1 away win and their 44th consecutive Premiership match unbeaten - was a prime example. Jens Lehmann, the Arsenal goalkeeper, did not make a save until the 30th minute, by which time Arsenal were already ahead. Nine minutes later they were three up. Even had Lauren been sent off, as he should have been, for hauling down Darren Huckerby after 29 minutes, no one seriously believed Norwich would get anything from the game.

That appeared to include the Norwich players. They stumbled across a copy of the club's scouting report on Arsenal before the game. As Huckerby revealed afterwards, it made Arsenal out to be a team of untouchable supermen. Where Norwich were concerned they were.

Without a sense of contest sport is lacking a critical element. A film of Arsenal's attacking play, complete with reverse camera angles, slo-mo and appropriate music, would be a worthy exhibit for Tate Modern and as balletic as anything at Sadler's Wells, but it would not be sport.

Thanks should be given, then, to their defending. Huckerby made Lauren look what he is, a converted midfielder; Lehmann again showed signs of uncertainty and Arsenal's commitment to attack occasionally left them vulnerable. As Middlesbrough proved last weekend, Arsenal do give opponents a chance. This, combined with the beauty of their play, means they remain watchable even when dominant. The comparison is thus not so much with Schumacher and Sampras, whose talents are for the purist, but with the likes of Don Bradman and Roger Federer.

However, the opposition has to be a cut above a Norwich team who soon discovered hard graft would not be enough. Each Arsenal goal exposed the gulf in different ways but the third one did so most cruelly. Adam Drury's control let him down as he attempted to bring down a wayward cross from Henry, Freddie Ljungberg stole the ball and Robert Pires swept it in. It was reminiscent of a similar error by Boro's Stuart Parnaby for Arsenal's fifth the previous Sunday. "We'd have got away with that in the First Division," said Nigel Worthington, the Norwich manager, "but teams are ruthless at this level." The best ones are.

For the first goal Henry outsprinted three defenders before delivering a cross which Jose Antonio Reyes tapped in after Drury had miskicked his clearance. Henry's headed second followed a dozen passes beginning with an Ashley Cole throw-in deep on Arsenal's left and ending with Ljungberg's right-wing cross. The fourth was a classic Henry break, clinically finished by Dennis Bergkamp. The regularity with which Norwich's defence was shredded made the decision to omit the Denmark captain Thomas Helveg, recently of Milan, puzzling.

Worthington said he had retained Marc Edworthy as he had played well at Newcastle and "if players perform I'll back them". Good for team spirit perhaps, but Norwich do not have quality to spare. Witness Leon McKenzie's failure to shoot when he could have made it 3-2 in the 68th minute. Not trusting his right foot, he tried to turn on to his left and was tackled. It was another 10 minutes before he kicked the ball again.

Norwich's goal was a penalty earned and converted by Huckerby, by some distance their best player, albeit a lazy one. The foul was one of the few blemishes in an otherwise composed first Premiership start by Justin Hoyte. Called up when Pascal Cygan aggravated a calf injury in the warm-up, the England Under-21 international may have played well enough to forestall a proposed loan to Ipswich.

Arsenal's win drew them level with Chelsea with maximum points, and eight points clear of Manchester United. Not that Henry was reading much into that. He said: "Man Utd missed a game because of the Champions' League so that would only be five points and they had a tough game at Chelsea. It is strange to have a gap over them right at the start but you can never write them off. Once they get going in the Premiership they are difficult to stop. "

Worthington already doubts United can catch Arsenal. "Having played both this week I'd have to say Arsenal have taken the game on to another level."

In Arsenal's hands it really is the beautiful game, but to borrow from JB Priestley, their Art needs greater Conflict than Norwich can provide to be fully appreciated.

Goals: Reyes (21) 0-1; Henry (35) 0-2; Pires (39) 0-3; Huckerby, pen (49) 1-3; Bergkamp (90) 1-4.

Norwich City (4-4-2): Green; Edworthy, Fleming, Charlton, Drury; McVeigh (McKenzie, 62), Francis, Holt, Jonson (Safri, h/t); Doherty (Svensson, 82), Huckerby. Substitutes not used: Helveg, Ward (gk).

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Hoyte, Touré, Cole; Ljungberg, Gilberto, Fabregas (Edu, 72), Pires (Clichy, 83); Reyes (Bergkamp, 72), Henry. Substitutes not used: Cygan, Almunia (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Booked: Arsenal: Lauren.

Man of the match: Henry.

Attendance: 23,944.

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