Photo Gallery: Norwich City steal show from Arsenal’s Robin van Persie
Arsenal 3, Norwich City 3: On the grandest of Premier League stages, Norwich City performed with the aplomb of a seasoned veteran.
Easy to forget in the euphoric afterglow of matching and at times bettering Arsene Wenger's side, but this was Norwich's first-ever trip to the magnificent Emirates. A stadium every bit as fitting a legacy for the Frenchman as the trophies and periods of stylish football he has cultivated over the past 16 seasons in English football.
Wenger has enjoyed plenty of memorable milestones along that journey. Norwich deserved to share the spotlight on his landmark 900th fixture at the helm.
Frankly, to borrow from Paul Lambert's playbook, it is a ridiculous notion that a side constructed for fractions of the cost the Gunners' will need to lavish on a new contract for Robin van Persie are able to not only compete but for large spells dictate the nature of this high brow top flight occasion.
The game was a wonderful microcosm of Norwich's entire Premier League season. Brave in approach, bold in their style of play, Lambert's collective defied the odds to initially frustrate and then when van Persie appeared to have put Arsenal's Champions League bid back on track to respond with even deeper reserves of courage and belief.
That Steve Morison should be cast in the role of saviour was a delicious irony for a striker who, much like his team mates, has struggled to maintain the stratospherically high standards with the essential consistency that separates the Manchester giants and the more refined parts of the London football mafia from the rest.
Qualities Norwich have shown in abundance since emerging into the sunshine at Wigan's DW Stadium. Perhaps the greatest surprise here was their return at the end of a gruelling campaign and a recent post-Easter spell when the forward thrusts of the likes of Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Luis Suarez were intermingled with a leggy weariness through much of City's play.
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To reprise all the best attributes at such an advanced stage of the season spoke volumes for Lambert, his coaching staff and players. The zest, the energy, the vibrant athleticism was back in the Canaries' play. Particularly in a first half when one goal difference was scant reward for a measured control that Arsenal have long been lauded for throughout the Wenger dynasty.
All the constituent parts were in full working order. From John Ruddy's defiance to Grant Holt's belligerence. From the calm assurance Russell Martin brought shifted in one alongside Ryan Bennett to a midfield mix that was the equal of their more illustrious hosts. For it to come together again so seamlessly in such spectacular surroundings must be a source of immense satisfaction to Lambert.
City's manager opted to deploy Holt and Simeon Jackson in a two-pronged assault that underlined his fearless approach. Arsenal were stretched far too often, creating holes in midfield for Wes Hoolahan and Jonny Howson to inflict maximum damage. Bradley Johnson was the counterpoint, anchoring that base for Howson to spark counters that led to both City's first half goalscoring forays; not to forget the individual brilliance the ex-Leeds man showed in the build up to Morison's late leveller. An instinctive turn and graceful pivot left Tomas Rosicky and Alex Song off balance before a cushioned pass threaded all in one movement allowed Morison to apply the bludgeon.
Elliott Bennett may not be a front-runner for City's player-of-the-season. He might be a shorter price for player-of-the-past month or so, given a consistent run in the side that is a testament to his growing maturity and top flight ability. He tucked infield on numerous occasions in the early sparring to help congest those central areas the Gunners love to attack to supply van Persie.
Arsenal's leader was a peripheral figure prior to the interval. This, lest anyone forget, a man rightly acclaimed prior to kick-off as the double footballer-of-the-year. Yet Norwich's captain was the dominant force in this opening period.
Holt was at his marauding best; the rampaging presence that did for Swansea at the Liberty Stadium on another notable away day. Whether dropping deep to instigate counter-attacks or intelligently creating space inside the Arsenal area, Holt always seemed one or two moves ahead.
Wojciech Szczesny wore a haunted look for the majority of arguably one of his more uncomfortable afternoons; right from the point Holt launched himself at Simon Lappin's hanging cross with no fear of the potential physical harm from an aerial duel with the advancing Pole.
The bigger the test, the better Holt and Norwich have seemed to perform this season. Without the league points their performances arguably merited at both Chelsea and Manchester United; certainly for the defensive resolve shown at Liverpool and Everton.
There was ample evidence of that again, but it was laced with cunning attacking endeavour. City defended in numbers, in a solid shape, and sprung with an economy of movement; hitting Jackson in the channels or Holt coming short to link with Howson and Hoolahan. Norwich were brave in deed and thought; not just in selection but also how they set about the task after slipping behind within two minutes.
Ryan Bennett's clearing header was snaffled by Aaron Ramsey who fed Yossi Benayoun. The curse of the inside strike struck again when the Israeli dipped past Kyle Naughton to conjure a wondrous curling effort beyond Ruddy. Much like Aguero's second for Manchester City at Carrow Road or Junior Hoilett's for Blackburn in recent times. The Football League has nothing on the Premier League when it comes to the purity of the finishing. Southampton and Reading will learn that soon enough.
Holt was denied by Kieran Gibbs from Jackson's cut back. The former Norwich loanee was less fortunate when the striker later veered across Arsenal's defence to collect Hoolahan's reverse pass and drill a deflected effort that looped up over the luckless Szczesny to put Norwich ahead.
There could be no such mitigation for the home keeper with Hoolahan's earlier leveller. Naughton sought redemption with an overlapping burst after Howson and Elliott Bennett had worked an opening down the right. Naughton's cross was accurate, the Irishman's sidefoot appeared to lack the requisite pace until Szczesny shovelled it across his goal line.
Both City goals were greeted for split seconds with a cacophony of silence; the time it took the visiting hordes at the other end of this cavernous bowl to register and perhaps the home faithful to suspend their incredulity at the temerity of Lambert's side.
It could have got worse. Laurent Koscielny appeared keen to swap shirts with Martin inside the Gunners' penalty box before the interval had been reached. Hoolahan had already tumbled under Francis Coquelin's awkward tackle – the young Frenchman having replaced his unfortunate compatriot Bacary Sagna after the full back's leg break.
Van Persie cut a frustrated figure. The Dutch maestro castigated his own team mates for failing to anticipate a cross just after the interval. Not many have been on the imperious striker's wavelength over the preceeding ten months or so.
Jackson typified City's confident strut when he squared up Thomas Vermaelen, but dragged tamely at Szczesny. Holt's flick picked out Hoolahan's third man run but Arsenal survived again. Norwich were inching towards a notable north London league double following their recent Easter incursion at Spurs.
Van Persie harboured other ideas. One cushioned slot into the bottom corner brought parity. A swivel and unerring crack brushed Ruddy's hand and kissed the underside of the bar. Ruddy's shot-stopping prowess and a succession of blocks from the men stationed in front were required to prevent further damage in a sustained onslaught to rival Liverpool's opening burst at Anfield earlier this season.
But there was one final, glorious twist. One Norwich merited for their resolution. For their spirit. Howson provided, Morison struck with all the accuracy Suarez showed the previous weekend at Carrow Road. Ruddy was called to account again in stoppage time seconds after van Persie had ended up in the net after a far post tussle with Naughton.
There was something entirely apt about the best of the best left in a crumpled heap. Arsenal and van Persie's Champions League quest was not the headline story here. That belonged to Norwich City.