This game, which could be Robin Van Persie's last at this ground, told the story of his and Arsenal's season. After watching so many dismal minutes he was very close to personally transforming failure into success. Van Persie's efforts, though, were not enough. The draw against Norwich City means that Champions' League qualification is no longer in Arsenal's hands.
Van Persie must have despaired. He was little more than a spectator for 70 of the worst minutes of football seen here this season, as Arsenal were outrun by Norwich before two more of his goals turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. It seemed to have delivered three crucial points, which would have secured Arsenal's hold on third place. But Steve Morison's strike, with five minutes left, ended that.
"It was frustrating because we were very poor in the first half, not switched on," said Arsène Wenger, who had more to worry about with the news that Bacary Sagna has broken his leg after a challenge with Bradley Johnson and will miss France's European Championship campaign. "The quality of our first half was absolutely not at the level of how we want to play in a game like that, a decisive game. It's surprising because recently we were quite good, but I feel that today defensively the whole team was very very poor. In the end we got punished for our mistakes."
But this was not just a gift from the Arsenal manager's side, as Norwich were excellent. Between Yossi Benayoun's second-minute opener, and Van Persie's equaliser 70 minutes later, the visitors were far superior.
"It was not just battling," Paul Lambert pointed out. "I thought we were excellent, the football was marvellous, as good as it has been in my time here. I am as proud as anything of them."
Given everything that happened afterwards, it was a surprise how the game started. In just the second minute, Arsenal scored a goal of such class and ease that a routine win felt likely. Benayoun, cutting in from the left, made space with a flash of his feet and curled the ball into the far top corner.
To start like that should have brought comfort and confidence to Arsenal, but it had the opposite effect they played nervously and fretfully.
Norwich just eased their way into the game. Grant Holt, as ever, was their reference point, having a shot blocked by Kieran Gibbs and beating Wojciech Szczesny to a cross, which he headed over. Jonny Howson was the best midfielder on the pitch and he started the move that brought Norwich level. He shuffled past a challenge, and passed to Elliott Bennett, who played in the overlapping Kyle Naughton. Wes Hoolahan, having found space, side-footed Naughton's cross in through the arms of Szczesny.
Fifteen minutes later, Hoolahan was allowed to make another goal. Running unchallenged through the middle, Hoolahan played the ball to Holt on his right, who deflected a shot in off Gibbs. The lead was no more than Norwich deserved, and on a kinder day could have had two penalties before half-time.
Knowing that more was required in the second half, Arsenal started to push men forward. Benayoun headed a free-kick at John Ruddy, while Van Persie also shot at him. Frustration grew but Van Persie ran on to Alex Song's chip and volleyed past Ruddy. Arsenal poured forward; Marouane Chamakh headed over and Van Persie stabbed another shot at Ruddy. Eventually the pressure told and Rosicky's pass broke to Van Persie, who put Arsenal back in front. It should have been enough, but when Howson chipped through Morison, the substitute, whipped the ball into the bottom corner.
Arsenal could have had a penalty when Van Persie was pushed by Naughton. "It is not in our hands any more," sighed Wenger. "We have to see where it leaves us."
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna (Coquelin, 33), Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Ramsey (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 63), Song; Gervinho, Rosicky, Benayoun (Chamakh, 69); Van Persie.
Norwich (4-3-1-2): Ruddy; Naughton, R Bennett, Martin, Lappin; E Bennett, Howson, Johnson; Hoolahan (Pilkington, 74); Jackson (Morison, 68), Holt (Wilbraham, 81).
Referee Anthony Taylor.
Man of the match Ruddy (Norwich).
Match rating 8/10.
French tears: Sagna misses Euro 2012 after breaking his leg
Bacary Sagna will miss the European Championship after breaking his leg yesterday. The France and Arsenal right-back broke his right fibula during the 3-3 draw against Norwich City, a recurrence of the injury which put him out for four months this season.
"It was from a kick and I don't know how long he will be out for," Arsène Wenger said after the game. Sagna received a heavy tackle from Bradley Johnson, tried to play on and soon had to go off. "He tried to play on but went down. The guy closed him down and walked on him. I don't know if it was deliberate."
Jack Pitt-BrookeReuse content