Arsenal 4, Norwich City 1
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City simply had no answer to Arsenal's devastating late burst in a 4-1 Premier League defeat at the Emirates.
Jonny Howson's 70th minute finish looked poised to set up a thrilling finale after Jack Wilshere had coolly slotted the table toppers ahead in the opening period before Mesut Ozil glanced home a second just before the hour mark. But Aaron Ramsey capped a fine week that saw him earn Wales a World Cup draw against Belgium with a sublime individual strike before Ozil wrapped up the victory for the rampant Gunners.
City battled gamely and enjoyed prolonged spells of possession either side of the interval but Chris Hughton's men were simply outclassed in the final stages by Arsenal's attacking power.
Hughton made one change to the starting line up which suffered late heartache against Chelsea at Carrow Road prior to the international break. But it was a significant change with club-record signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel absent from the matchday squad, paving the way for Gary Hooper's full Premier League debut. Anthony Pilkington recovered from a hamstring injury that curtailed his World Cup involvement with the Republic of Ireland. Irish team mate Wes Hoolahan was included on the substitutes' bench but there was no place for Swedish international Johan Elmander. Arsenal's enviable reserves saw the free-scoring Ramsey kept in reserve with Santi Cazorla promoted to the starting line up after a recent ankle injury. German midfielder Ozil retained his place in midfield after passing a fitness test on a knee problem suffered on international duty in the midweek 5-3 World Cup qualifying in Sweden.
Wilshere swapped flanks for the Gunners after his previous outing at West Brom down the left, with the returning Cazorla slotting into role either side of Ozil.
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Sebastien Bassong needed to be alert in the opening moments to head behind Bacary Sagna's probing cross before Leroy Fer tried to set Hooper free. John Ruddy then dropped confidently on Cazorla's swerving strike from the edge before berating his defenders for showing the Spaniard inside onto his favoured left foot.
Alex Tettey's defensive instincts intercepted Kieran Gibbs' cut-back with Arsenal already into their smooth rhythm. Fer triggered a counter for the visitors but Robert Snodgrass' final ball failed to match the sharpness of the initial turn. Michael Turner foiled Oliver Giroud in the 11th minute when Bassong dallied long enough for Arsenal to recycle and feed the Frenchman. City at this stage looked more than comfortable with Arsenal's patient passing football, but the Gunners sparked into life when Wilshere calmly sidefooted past the stranded Ruddy from barely eight yards after City's defence were mesmerised by quick, one-touch passing triggered by Cazorla and involving Giroud and Wilshere.
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Giroud then opened up his body cleverly to collect Sagna's inside ball but curled well wide of Ruddy's goal with the home fans still purring from the skill of Arsenal's opening incision. The Gunners' hunger to retrieve the ball was equally impressive as Fer was pounced on by three Arsenal midfielders as he attempted to relieve the siege.
Tettey required prolonged treatment after a sickening facial clash with Mathieu Flamini which left the dazed Norwegian flat on the turf before he was eventually able to return to the fray. Norwich finally managed to free the overlapping Martin Olsson twice in quick succession but Arsenal's rearguard was impressively solid to deal with the Swede's deliveries from the left. Ruddy then brilliantly denied Giroud at his near post after Russell Martin's casual pass was pounced on by Gibbs who picked out the Frenchman on the corner of the six yard box.
Flamini exited in the aftermath of failing to recover from his brush with Tettey but that merely brought Ramsey into the action. Ruddy was now an increasingly influential figure with the England keeper denying Sagna on the volley from the edge of his area before Snodgrass' tame effort at the opposite end drew ironic cheers from the home ranks. Wojciech Szczesny was belatedly pressed into action to divert away Snodgrass' intended cross just prior to the interval after more excellent break-up play from Fer.
The Dutch international powered forward again before unleashing a long range hit that dipped in front of Szczesny who managed to shovel behind with the visitors' enjoying their first real concerted spell of pressure in the final third.
Hughton resisted any temptation to make changes at the interval and it was Arsenal who conjured the first strike on the resumption when Mikel Arteta's 25-yard shot hit Tettey before the Spaniard skied the resulting corner after a timely intervention from Snodgrass to halt Cazorla.
Martin then hooked a decent sighter wide from just inside the Arsenal penalty area after Turner had diverted Snodgrass' drilled free kick into the path of his defensive colleague. Szczesny was forced to punch clear under pressure from Bassong after Olsson was crudely upended by Ramsey. Szczesny was pressed into action again to clutch from Snodgrass and then Olsson with the home fans urging a positive response from the hosts. But City were undone again by their own attacking adventure in the 58th minute when Ozil glanced home Giroud's cross to cap a rapier counter thrust from the hosts in an echo of Chelsea's decisive late breakthrough at Carrow Road last time out.
Pilkington dragged wide from Howson's slip pass with Szczesny fully committed as Hughton's side probed for a lifeline. Turner hooked clear with Giroud poised to add a third from close range after Arsenal's slick passing had again cut City open to work Sagna into copious space. City's perseverance was rewarded in the 70th minute when Howson chested Olsson's cross which initially deflected off Mertesacker before lashing low past Szczesny from 12 yards. Nathan Redmond replaced Pilkington before Arsenal could restart in a positive signal of intent from Hughton.
Redmond's first burst almost inadvertently spelt disaster for the visitors when he was pickpocketed to set up another swift counter that saw Ruddy go full length to claw out Ramsey's goalbound hit. The England keeper then denied Ramsey again from range in their own personal duel before second half arrival Nicklas Bendtner could find no way past the Norwich number one.
Ramsey finally broke Ruddy's brave resistance in the 83rd minute with a stunning individual goal, swerving inside Howson and Bassong before coolly rolling past the Norwich keeper from six yards. Mertesacker was millimetres from adding a fourth with a glancing header but it was left to his German international colleague Ozil to slot from six yards when he re-directed Ramsey's cut back.
• Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Flamini (Ramsey 38), Wilshere, Ozil, Cazorla (Rosicky 59), Giroud (Bendtner 78). Subs: Vermaelen, Fabianski, Monreal, Jenkinson.
• Goals: Wilshere (18), Ozil (58, 88), Ramsey (83)
• Norwich: Ruddy, Martin, Bassong, Turner, Olsson, Howson, Tettey (Hoolahan 78), Fer, Pilkington (Redmond 69), Snodgrass, Hooper. Subs (not used): Whittaker, Johnson, Bunn, Becchio, R Bennett.
• Goal: Howson (70)
• Added on time: 4 minutes / 4 minutes
• Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)
• Attendance: 60,009