Slack Arsenal deliver 'massive blow' to Arsène Wenger

Arsenal 3 Norwich City 3

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The Independent Online

In May, it is impossible to hide your competitive character. Arsenal were playing for Champions League qualification on Saturday but they wilted, delivering one of their poorest performances of the season.

Norwich City were playing for nothing but pride, their fans, and the reassurance that they belong in the top flight. But one of their best displays this year ended in an unflattering draw.

For Arsène Wenger this was infuriating. His team are doing their best to confirm the old Arsenal fear that when it matters most they play their worst.

One month ago they seemed to have third place – the guaranteed group-stage ticket – locked down. But three points from four games, two of them at home against Wigan Athletic and Norwich, have tossed that away.

"I have no gut feeling [about Champions League qualification], I am just gutted today," Wenger said afterwards. "I feel today is a game that was a massive blow. We were not sharp in the first half but is it down to too much preparation, not being switched on or subconsciously thinking we will manage to do it? We were not at the pace of the game in the first half for sure."

Most of the Arsenal faults were on display here; the lack, without Mikel Arteta, of midfield tempo or direction; the absence, Robin van Persie aside, of ruthlessness in the box; the fear that Thomas Vermaelen might not be the solution at the back but the problem itself. After 70 minutes of feckless football Arsenal were only 2-1 down. The almost weekly Van Persie recovery act followed, with two goals, before Steve Morison made it 3-3.

"It was another three [goals conceded] today which is of course very bad," Wenger continued. "We were just second-best too many times defensively. Again we are punished because Robin had to score and many times we do not get enough goals from elsewhere."

But this was also the best of Norwich City. As Wigan did here three weeks ago, they out-ran Arsenal for long spells. They were just as good as they had been in their 2-1 win at Tottenham Hotspur one month ago, not digging in for a draw but playing their game with vigour and purpose.

To perform like that with safety assured reveals everything about the hunger Lambert has inculcated at Norwich since his arrival in 2009. These are players for whom the chance to play in the Premier League is not a presumption but an earned right; none of their squad had much top-flight experience before this season.

Understandably, Lambert is now keen to maintain the hunger that has taken them from the lower reaches of League One to the comfort of mid-table Premier League safety in his three-year tenure. "You have to approach it as it is your first time again," he said. "You can't take anything for granted in football. It is my job to keep them at it. You have to be humble as a footballer and as a person."

Last summer Lambert bought mainly from the Championship and League One. Given budget restraints, he may do so again this time.

He said: "If a player is good enough and got the right attitude and is hungry to succeed and wants to try and win things and wants to better themselves then that is a great achievement in football. In football you need to be driven."

Match facts

Arsenal: SZCZESNY 4/10; SAGNA 5; KOSCIELNY 6; VERMAELEN 4; GIBBS 6; GERVINHO 5; SONG 5; ROSICKY 6; RAMSEY5; BENAYOUN 6; VAN PERSIE 7

Norwich: RUDDY 8; LAPPIN 7; R BENNETT 6; R MARTIN 7; NAUGHTON 7; JOHNSON 7; HOWSON 8; E BENNETT 6; HOOLAHAN 8; HOLT 9; JACKSON 7

Scorers. Arsenal: Benayoun 2, Van Persie 72, 80. Norwich: Hoolahan 12, Holt 27, Morison 85

Substitutes: Arsenal Coquelin 6 (Sagna, 33), Oxlade-Chamberlain 5 (Ramsey, 63), Chamakh 6 (Benayoun, 69). Norwich City Morison 7 (Jackson, 69), Pilkington (Hoolahan, 74), Wilbraham (Holt 81). Booked: Arsenal Ramsey, Vermaelen. Norwich Jackson, Hoolahan, Wilbraham. Man of the match Holt. Match rating 8/10.

Possession: Arsenal 59% Norwich 41%.

Attempts on target: Arsenal 13 Norwich 6.

Referee A Taylor (Cheshire). Attendance 60,092.

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