March 11 2014 Latest news:
Monday, October 22, 2012
The lasting legacy of this uplifting Norwich City victory is not a first Premier League win of the season. It is renewed belief the Canaries can prosper yet again in the top flight.
For all the hard luck stories from the draws against QPR, West Ham and Tottenham, City’s collective efforts under Chris Hughton so far had been coloured by the manner of heavy defeats to Fulham, Liverpool and Chelsea.
When City have been good, they have done enough to amass solitary points when perhaps on each occasion they justifiably deserved more. But when they have slipped so far short of the standards required to compete in the most exacting club league in Europe, they have capitulated. Buried under avalanches of goals – some the result of breathtaking brilliance, but all sourced from an uncertainty in defensive areas that cast serious doubt on their continued Premier League membership even this early in proceedings.
Norwich needed a win but they also needed a statement of intent. Hughton’s squad on their bad days have looked incapable of living with the very best. Against an Arsenal side seriously talked about in title circles following a superb start to life after Robin, Norwich were the masters. The Gunners’ failings will predictably dominate the national agenda in the post-mortems over what transpired at a raucous Carrow Road. Norwich’s support and players are well used to such slights after last season’s battle against-the-odds. But Arsene Wenger was magnanimous in defeat; generous in his praise of Hughton’s men.
Arsenal’s work in the final third lacked the precision you expect from world class talents such as Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski, yet they still dominated territory and possession with their slick interplay and seemingly telepathic forward motions. Norwich, however, bossed proceedings where it mattered.
All good sides are feted for their collective spine; a reliable seam from back to front around which managers seek to add the garnish to a solid structure. For the first time this campaign, Norwich were more than a match for high calibre opponents through those key central areas of the football pitch.
John Ruddy had his quietest shift for some time when, in all probability, one suspects he may have mentally prepared himself for another barrage just like at Chelsea or against a Luis-Suarez-inspired Liverpool at Carrow Road last time out.
Ruddy remained vigilant and alert. When he was required fleetingly, he proved a calm, assured presence – none more so than when Mikel Arteta for the first and last time escaped the suffocating presence of Alex Tettey and Bradley Johnson to test the England man in the frenetic final stages. Ruddy’s watching brief on this occasion owed everything to those stationed in front.
Sebastien Bassong and Michael Turner forged a union few would have thought strong enough to repel the Gunners, given Turner’s widely acknowledged difficulties in his two previous Premier League outings for his new club. City’s defensive sentries time and again cut the intended supply lines to Oliver Giroud.
The Frenchman spent more time on the deck rubbing the back of his head than he did on his feet after coming off worse in numerous bruising aerial encounters.
Turner’s rehabilitation may well have been sealed completely if he had directed Anthony Pilkington’s header on target from barely six yards. But this was a promising start for a man who once upon a time was mentioned in England circles during his Hull pomp. Bassong has suffered no such problems acclimatising to Norfolk. The cultured centre back was again a dominant presence. The athletic anticipation and ability to sense danger encapsulated perfectly when he raced across City’s penalty area to confront Gervinho deep in stoppage time. Bassong possesses the uncanny knack of all good operators. He makes the game look ridiculously simple; he also has a capacity to inspire those around him. Johnson and Tettey were the bodyguards in front of the back four. Paired together for the first time, they looked a tailor-made marriage for the defensive shield most Premier League clubs now increasingly favour. Both were disciplined when Arsenal tried to pull City out of their defensive shape and adventurous when the moments allowed. Tettey roamed forward to ram a right footer at Vito Mannone in the game’s defining act. Grant Holt did the rest when the Italian keeper spilled.
Jonny Howson’s omission would have surprised many and for that Hughton deserves huge credit. The City boss is routinely praised for his calmness, his measured approach to adversity. But he is also brave, never afraid to make the big calls. This was a big win for him and his methods; an antidote to the doubters who question whether he is the right man for this critical phase of the club’s on-going development.
Tettey and Johnson were the anchor in midfield, but Hughton selected a trio of artists to supply Holt. Elliott Bennett and Pilkington offer pace and guile in wide areas and cover for their full-backs, whilst Hoolahan was at his imperious best.
Whether it was the presence of the Republic of Ireland manager in the stands or a visting line up packed with creative talent, Hoolahan embraced the challenge of trying to minimise Holt’s isolation.
Less a lone frontman, more an unstoppable force of nature, City’s captain terrorised Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker. The frazzled Belgian’s slip in the final ten minutes could have proved fatal when Holt powered the length of Arsenal’s half before conjuring a tame attempted lob so out of kilter with his own and Norwich’s assured performance on the night.
The final whistle sparked a seismic outpouring of emotion in the stands and on the pitch from those in green and yellow. Ruddy and Russell Martin raised their arms skywards. It felt like a renewal. For all Arsenal’s failings, this Norwich team and this Norwich manager proved just what is still possible for the club in the Premier League. City’s high-energy, high-tempo urgings triggered the sort of decibel levels around the stadium that had been sorely absent at Carrow Road this season.
With a full house in attendance watching a side giving them something to rally behind, the Canaries’ home will always be an intimidating arena; irrespective of whether the visitors are sprinkled liberally with star dust like Wenger’s serial Champions League contenders.
The bar has now been set. And contrasted with Chelsea and Liverpool it is prohibitively high, but Hughton and his players proved beyond doubt that anyone tempted to write their Premier League obituaries are a touch premature.