Arsenal produced some moments of breathtaking quality to eventually brush Norwich City aside at the Emirates Stadium and move back to the top of the Premier League. In many ways, a 4-1 result was not reflective of the balance of play in a match where the visitors were a real factor for a long spell. However, such was the quality in the final third from Arsenal that it’s hard to question the eventual scoreline.
Each Arsenal goal had a touch of class about it. Jack Wilshere’s opener inside 20 minutes was a wonderful example of intricate interplay in and around the box. A header from Mesut Ozil to put the home side 2-0 just before the hour mark was also impressive, while Aaron Ramsey starred late on, first with a wonderful individual effort and then by setting up Ozil to grab a second.
But for a 35 minute spell Norwich were the equals of Arsenal. The home side’s second goal was against the run of play and when Jonny Howson scored to make the score 2-1 a tense finish looked on the cards. Instead, Arsenal just moved through the gears once more and blew Chris Hughton’s side away late on with the kind of play that makes talk of the title seem not in the slightest hyperbolic.
It was an encouraging start to the contest from the home side. There was plenty of neat possession, but Norwich were doing a good job of stifling their opponents. It was going to take something special to provide the breakthrough. And that’s exactly what Arsenal provided with 18 minutes gone. A move that started on the edge of Arsenal’s own box, culminated with Cazorla playing the ball inside and then Wilshere and Giroud combining with a double one-two of passes and flicks ending with a sublime round the corner pass by the French striker to get Wilshere in behind and to finish first time with aplomb. It was a goal that embodied the football that Arsene Wenger so desires.
The intelligent movement of Arsenal’s attacking midfield three, and Ozil in particular, continued to impress. They were keeping the ball with ease. There was also a hunger to quickly win the ball back, a quality that almost led to Arsenal’s second goal. Kieran Gibbs stole possession deep in the opposition half, motored toward the byline before pulling it back for Giroud and it took a superb save low down by John Ruddy to keep the score at 1-0.
The pattern of the match and Arsenal’s dominance of it changed, though, when Mathieu Flamini was forced off after a nasty collision of heads. His absence showed how important he has become since re-signing for the club in the summer. Arsenal missed not only Flamini’s competitive streak but the example he sets for those around him.
Norwich immediately had more room in midfield and came back into the game in the final 10 minutes of the second half. Leroy Fer grew in influence and exploited the extra space with a forward run and shot from more than 20 yards that Wojciech Szczesny had to be alert to keep out.
Norwich’s improved display continued into the start of the second half. Russell Martin should have done better than volley wide from a header back, while Robert Snodgrass and Martin Olsson both called Szczesny into action. The visitors were now controlling possession, but still Arsenal showed that the greater quality in the final third rested with them and just before the hour mark hit Norwich with a sucker punch.
From another break from deep in their own half, Cazorla fed Giroud wide on the right, who picked out a perfect cross for the forward-bursting Ozil to show he’s not bad in the air either with a header past Ruddy.
Still, Norwich were undeterred. Anthony Pilkington wasted his side’s best chance after he got away with tugging down Per Mertesacker but then shot wide. But with 20 minutes remaining they found a way back into the match.
Mertesacker made a poor clearance at the near post that saw the ball end up at the feet of Howson, who controlled well and, being given too much space by Gibbs, he struck a fine low shot past Szczesny.
The goal seemed to spark Arsenal back into life. Aaron Ramsey in particular, on for Flamini, suddenly seemed determined to continue his extraordinary scoring run. Ruddy denied the Welshman twice from well-struck long-range efforts, but could do nothing as Ramsey sublimely worked an opening with seven minutes remaining.
Found by Wilshere down the left of the area, Ramsey feinted to shoot once to floor two defenders, repeated the trick on his other side to floor another and then coolly side-footed past Ruddy from six yards.
And Ramsey played a big part in Arsenal’s fourth five minutes later. Tomas Rosicky’s fine cross found Ramsey at the back post and he unselfishly pulled it back for Ozil completely unmarked six yards out to volley a goal that was harsh on the visitors but reflected the clinical class of their opponents.