Arsenal maintained their fine early season form and went two points clear at the top of the Premier League with a 4-1 win against Norwich City at the Emirates on Saturday.
Arsene Wenger made two changes to the side that drew away at West Brom before the International break, with Bacary Sagna and Santi Cazorla both back in the side following injuries with Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Ramsey on the bench.
The home side started the brighter of the two and returning Spaniard Cazorla had the first shot on goal after he twisted and turned in the Norwich area but fired straight at John Ruddy in goal. We enjoyed the majority of the possession early on and played some neat football moving forward with the attractive attacking line up of Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud all linking up well, ably supported by the full backs who were regularly pushing forward into space.
The breakthrough came in the 18th minute, and it was something rather special. Wilshere began the move before Kieran Gibbs found Cazorla wide on the left, and what followed was a succession of sensational one touch passes and flicks between Cazorla, Giroud and ultimately Wilshere who latched on to the killer Giroud flick-through ball, side footing it past Ruddy who didn’t even pretend to know what was happening to try and keep it out.
It really was a goal of immense quality that only looks better the more and more you watch it. The confidence and trust to move and flick the ball as quickly as that speaks volumes of the attacking quality we have at our disposal and the pinball like nature of the goal shows the technical quality that these players of ours possess.
The game hit a lull for the rest of the half and Mathieu Flamini was forced off after a nasty clash of heads with Alexander Tettey, replaced by man of the moment Ramsey who was being rested. This opened things up for Norwich as the space Flamini usually occupied in front of the defence became available, and the visitors grew into the game having plenty of possession but failed to test Wojciech Szczesny in the Arsenal goal until Leroy Fer’s long-range effort just before half time forced a good stop by the Pole.
Arsenal could’ve doubled their advantage as Gibbs intercepted the ball deep in Norwich territory and cut it back for Giroud, whose near post shot required a very good reflex save from Ruddy, and we went into the break one up.
We started the second half brightly with two efforts from distance from Mikel Arteta, before Russell Martin wasted a glorious opportunity for Norwich following a free kick sent into our area. The visitors continued to push and appeared to be upping the ante as Robert Snodgrass shot straight at Szczesny after hesitation from Gibbs outside the area, before we scored our second against the run of play just before the hour mark.
It started with a Laurent Koscielny interception on the edge of our area, which quickly turned into a break as Cazorla surged forward. He found Giroud who had drifted wide right, and the Frenchman sent in a glorious cross landing on a sixpence for Ozil whose header went into the far corner with the slight aid of a deflection.
Tomas Rosicky then replaced Cazorla who put in a superb shift on his return to the side, but Norwich continued to cause problems going forward and Anthony Pilkington broke clear and dragged a shot wide having pushed Per Mertesacker to the ground, unnoticed by referee Lee Probert who otherwise had a pretty good and uneventful game.
Johnny Howson deservingly pulled one back for Norwich as he sweetly finished as Mertesacker couldn’t quite clear it, beating Szczesny at his near post. Ozil and Ramsey then both had long range attempts before Nicklas Bendtner came on for the excellent Giroud with Wenger maybe having one eye on Tuesday’s encounter with Borussia Dortmund, and the Dane immediately powered a shot at Ruddy who was equal to it.
Ramsey decided enough was enough in the 83rd minute and sent Norwich packing, literally, as he received the ball off Wilshere inside the visitors area, feinted to shoot once then cut back inside again and fired it passed Ruddy leaving three Norwich defenders on the floor in the process. It was almost impossible to think that anything could top Wilshere’s opening goal of the game, but this came pretty close as Ramsey continued his fine individual form.
Arsenal weren’t quite finished there though and added a fourth shortly afterwards. Bendtner had the ball on the left of the box, played it back to Rosicky whose cross to the far post was met and knocked back first time by Ramsey to Ozil who, also first time, rolled it home. Wilshere almost added a fifth late on as he shot just wide, but 4-1 it finished with four pretty decent goals to cap an enjoyable day for the Gunners fans who were in excellent voice at the stadium.
If I’m being honest, the score line did flatter us somewhat but I’m hardly going to complain. At 1-0 we were really up against it as Norwich took advantage of the Flamini shaped hole in our midfield and whereas Arsenal sides of old may have succumbed to the pressure and conceded, our quality told and we hit them when they looked far more likely to score.
Our attacking play was mesmerising at times and a complete joy to watch as Cazorla, Wilshere, Ozil and Ramsey strutted their stuff with confidence and ease and Norwich found it difficult to keep up. The first goal is already a favourite for Goal of the Season and it’s one that we won’t get tired of re-watching anytime soon. It was as if they were trying the ridiculous on the training pitch at the end of a session, and the ooh’s and aah’s from the crowd as it was replayed on the Emirates big screens were something you don’t experience to that extent too often. Truly something very special.
Ozil’s goals weren’t bad either but the desire of Ramsey to get the ball off Wilshere before his goal, like he did at Swansea away earlier this season, really highlights his confidence and continued improvement and he gave another very mature performance when he was called to action in the first half. Giroud might’ve been a bit disappointed not to score, but with two assists to his name he should be delighted with his display, and even Bendtner came on and looked fresh and sharp, something that wasn’t expected by too many.
Rosicky is currently providing a fine attacking option off the bench, and with the likes of Walcott, Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain still to return from their injuries, it’s impossible not to be excited about the potential of this squad for this season. Defensively we looked fragile without the assurance of Flamini in front of the back four, and we were still guilty of some clumsy moments at the back that needs to be addressed as sides better than Norwich could’ve caused more problems than the ones we encountered.
As I’ve said in my past couple of blogs, the tougher tests are still to come and we will know a lot more about our prospects once we’ve got through the next four weeks that sees us face Liverpool and Man United in the League, as well as Chelsea and Dortmund in cup competitions.
But given the way we’re playing right now, none of those sides should give us any reason to be fearful.