Photo Gallery: Thoroughbreds are pushed all the way

Norwich City 1, Arsenal 2: The questioner was either brave or extremely foolish. Could you stop, pause in the heat of battle, and admire the majesty of Arsenal's sublime passing and effortless forward bursts.

Paul Lambert played a straight bat, to be fair, whilst acknowledging the Gunners are indeed a breed apart when it comes to the indelible print they leave on games in this country's Premier League.

The Scot is not big on deference. This Arsenal is a pale imitation of Barcelona; particularly after their talisman opted for a return to the Camp Nou in the close season.

Yet for long spells at Carrow Road they played with a poise and a freedom of movement arguably last seen by Norwich fans when the 'Invincibles' visited in August 2004 – Arsene Wenger's finest gift to the English game. A team comprising Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry.

The stardust may be sprinkled a littler thinner across the Frenchman's current vintage but they were still light years from the opposition Norwich faced on their ascent through the Football League.

Led by a Dutch maestro the equal of Bergkamp in Robin van Persie. The statistics are frightening, but they still do not do Arsenal's number ten justice.

The Premier League's top scorer and current player-of-the-month is operating on a different level. Not only to his own team-mates but on this particular occasion Norwich's backline.

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The 28-year-old is at the peak of his powers. Confidence bordering on arrogance runs like a seam through his game at present. The Gunners' skipper now has the maturity to go with the undoubted talent that was always there when Wenger plucked him from Dutch football as an immature boy.

Steve Morison has done more than a passable impression of how to operate in that lone front-running role this season. Another goal, his third in three consecutive Norwich games, provided further evidence the bustling striker is adapting to the Premier League.

But van Persie is re-defining the art. Occupying Russell Martin and Leon Barnett at various stages, then pulling into the channels to cast a pervasive shadow over Kyle Naughton and Mark Tierney. Or dropping deeper into a congested midfield where he demanded service and used it with maximum efficiency.

Wenger eulogised about the right-footed finish lifted over John Ruddy which settled the contest. Tried to kid the assembled press corps it was used for little other than standing on. That is some swinger. Van Persie's opener and the visitors' equaliser owed more to a penalty box poacher's predatory instinct.

If Gervinho had sorted his own feet out in time to despatch Theo Walcott's inviting cross the Dutchman's only role in the goal would have been as main cheerleader. In his current form, there was an air of inevitably as the ball arced through the Brazilian's legs. Football can be kind. It can also be cruel.

Martin was a one man shield in the eye of a gathering storm during the first phase of the opening period. If there is a better goal line clearance seen at Carrow Road this or any other season than Martin's entry in the 11th minute, then we are in for some treat. Walcott slalomed inside Tierney before curling past Ruddy.

Martin sensed danger but the athleticism dwarfed the anticipation as he contorted his body to divert the goalbound strike up and over his own bar.

Morison nudged Norwich in front from the hosts' next concerted foray into enemy territory. Per Mertesacker dallied long enough for the forward to wrestle the initiative and lift over the advancing Wojciech Szczesny. It was a goal against the early run of play.

Lambert attached greater symbolism to it in his post-match briefing – a finish to inject extra self belief into the majority savouring the fayre in a new all seater home record gate as much as the men under his direct command.

Truth was, it carried an unwanted side effect. Arsenal re-grouped and came at Norwich with even more purpose and conviction. Van Persie stabbed wide after Ruddy parried Walcott's initial shot.

Martin's awareness was needed again when van Persie's looping header was dipping underneath Ruddy's bar from Andre Santos' cross before City's man of the half again denied the Gunners when Ruddy deflected Gervinho's angled effort.

It was Anfield revisited. City's opponents attacking with breathless intent; Norwich defiantly repelling each fresh wave.

Walcott has a long way to go to match the achievements of the man who used to wear the number 14 shirt with such distinction in the Gunners' line up. But he has the pedigree and the toolkit to deserve his ranking among the most potent wide players operating in the Premier League.

Tierney has been the only ever-present starter in Norwich's league campaign. The defender has exuded an air of comfort in such rarefied surroundings.

Norwich's left-back plays with an honesty that matches his straight-talking eloquence off the pitch. The 26-year-old has come up the hard way, like the majority of Lambert's squad. On Saturday at times during the first half, Tierney's learning curve lurched vertical.

The excellent Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta supplied the ammunition. Walcott did the rest. Lining up Tierney at will with plentiful space to exploit his fearsome pace. The England international took barely 30 seconds from the kick-off to escape down the right before picking out van Persie, who clipped wide as he fell off balance. The dye was cast.

Walcott went one way. The ball went the other as both objects circumnavigated Tierney. City's luck was about to run out when Gervinho's attempted extravagant back heel dropped for the lurking van Persie to draw Arsenal level from barely four yards.

With an hour to go against the form horses in the Premier League and van Persie – allied to Walcott –seriously in the mood Lambert's side could have wilted. Gone under. They did neither. This wasn't another dose of the old Blitz spirit they routinely dredge up to rescue lost causes when the early birds head for the exits.

No. This was a calm, measured, collective sense of purpose to demonstrate for those inside the ground and the hundreds of millions watching around the globe that not only do they deserve to share the same billing – they can also compete.

Bradley Johnson started to bite and snarl around Ramsey and Arteta. Walcott's influence subsided as the game progressed. Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan began to see more of the ball.

City played out the remainder of the half without any real alarms; before departing the scene with applause ringing in their ears. The home crowd knew they had been on the ropes for sustained spells. But Norwich were still in the ring – which made the winner, when it came just before the hour mark, all the more galling. The Dutchman's impudence was sublime; the decisive counter originated from Martin's sense of adventure and a blind alley. The excellent defender bent double as van Persie raced away to accept the acclaim of the visiting fans. It must have felt like a blow to the solar plexus.

One Norwich never in truth looked like recovering from in the ample time that remained. Pilkington failed to connect with Elliott Bennett's driven low cross. The former Huddersfield man then briefly threatened to reprise his wonder free kick against Aston Villa, but Arsenal's Szczesny grasped the precise set piece after it had floated over the Gunners' wall. They were sporadic incursions. Arsenal did what they do better than anybody else in English football. Kept possession.

Lambert shuffled his pack with the introduction of Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson, but City were starved off the ball; and by definition the chance to whip up one of those trademark heads of steam.

Lambert during the pre-match build up had delivered a pertinent truism which will hold for the duration of City's Premier League campaign. At certain times and on certain days, Norwich will play to their absolute maximum – and still get beat. Such is the quality they face.

This game might not go down as one of their best, but ultimately it will not define their fate.