Wasn't there once a chant that went something like "Boring, boring Arsenal"? It probably dated from the days when they would eke out a goalless draw at places like Carrow Road and set off home satisfied with a job well done. Times change, and Norwich's worst fears that Arsenal had changed as well were confirmed by another devastating display yesterday. Arsène Wenger's entertainers maintained their record of scoring at least three times per game, which now extends to 19 goals in five matches this season, starting with the Community Shield.
Jose Antonio Reyes, the exciting young gun who has notched in each of them, started things off this time; there followed that collector's item, a Thierry Henry header, before the Frenchman's superb run led to Robert Pires putting poor Norwich three behind at the interval. The home side earned much respect with their refusal to submit, Darren Huckerby's penalty early in the second half even hinting at a comeback, which Arsenal snuffed out before Dennis Bergkamp drummed in a fourth right at the finish.
The Norwich manager Nigel Worthington's praise for "commitment and application" shown in the opening games suggested he is well aware of the qualities required to survive among the big boys. It is equally important, however, for newly promoted clubs to put some points on the board early on, while players and supporters are still running on adrenalin. From that point of view, if the draw at Newcastle in midweek after being two goals down was highly meritorious, it did not compensate mathematically for failing to beat Crystal Palace at home in the opening game.
There was one break for Norwich before kick-off, Pascal Cygan sustaining a calf injury during the warm-up which forced Arsenal to bring in Justin Hoyte, a teenager, for his first Premiership start. Slight for a central defender, he did well and did not allow Gary Doherty, the new signing from Tottenham, to exploit either his extra inches or old North London antagonisms.
Lack of height at the back such as Norwich suffer with Simon Charlton and Craig Fleming is not necessarily a handicap against Arsenal, but shortage of pace is, as Henry - captaining the side for the first time - ruthlessly demonstrated once the game had assumed a coherent pattern. That pattern consisted of the champions playing smoothly out of defence, often through the excellent Cesc Fabregas, then getting in behind a static back four.
When Lauren sent a long pass forward in the 18th minute, Henry was onside but almost immediately a yard ahead of Charlton, the goalkeeper Robert Green just managing to prod the ball for a corner. A minute later, Freddie Ljungberg sent the French striker past his marker again with a wonderful prompt and Green, who was called into the England squad at the end of last season, saved with his legs.
But the inevitable breakthrough soon materialised, albeit from an apparently innocuous position. Henry, supplied by Ljungberg, made it into a threatening one with his speed and control, leaving a swirl of yellow shirts in his wake before setting up Reyes for a tap-in.
By half-time the contest was decided, Arsenal scoring twice more in the space of four minutes. Henry headed in Ljungberg's cross, suggesting Norwich could have done with some additional height after all, and his cross then led to the third goal, the left-back Adam Drury making a horrible mess of dealing with it and allowing Ljungberg his third assist, a square ball for Pires to knock in.
The more generous home supporters applauded Arsenal off at half-time, although the majority were still abusing the referee Graham Poll. He had upset them after half an hour by showing only a yellow card to Lauren for holding back Huckerby as he burst clear, a linesman having advised that there was a covering defender in attendance.
Poll taxed Norfolk patience again by declining to award a penalty as Hoyte diverted Huckerby's low cross past a post, but he could hardly ignore Hoyte's trip soon after half-time on the lively Huckerby, who rolled in the penalty. Norwich sensed consolation and respectability, if not reprieve, and there might have been an interesting half an hour if Jens Lehmann had not saved from Huckerby and Gary Holt.
The goalkeeper did well each time, so instead interest centered more on whether his team would cut the home side open again on the break. They did so 10 minutes from the end, with the substitute Bergkamp prominent, only for Ashley Cole's pass to elude Henry. In the last seconds, however, Henry was the provider and Bergkamp the finisher. It would be nice to think the applause at the end was for both sides.Reuse content