Arsenal 4 – 1 Norwich City
1 – 0 Wilshere (18)
2 – 0 Özil (53)
2 – 1 Howson (70)
3 – 1 Ramsey (83)
4 – 1 Özil (88)
He’d been waiting for ten days to regale the home crowd with his witticism but somehow the drunken slur of “He smokes when he wants to” failed to bring any mirth or titillation. Probably because a solo voice had regaled us with their version minutes before. That got the cold shoulder as well. There was a match going on, we just weren’t interested.
And it was a strange match in many respects, one that brought to mind the children’s nursery rhyme because when we were good, we were very, very good but we were bad, we were horrid. For spells in the game, passes went astray with supporters in the front row of the East and West stands most likely to be the recipient of the match ball than anyone on the pitch in a red and white shirt. Even those whose passing is not usually open to question were affected by a combination of their own lack of match fitness and the impact of the international break. But when they clicked, it was a purring, well-oiled machine that produced as much flair, inventiveness and clinical finishing as has been seen since the start of last season. Some of the passing was as good as has been seen at any time during Wenger’s reign.
Capping it all were four tremendous goals, moments of individual brilliance meshed into mesmirising team interplay. Everyone is rightly purring about Jack Wilshere’s opener, conceived with his own impetus from outside of his own area, interspersed with lively passing, movement and flicks, finished with aplomb after one-touch flicks between the scorer and Giroud on the edge of the Norwich area. It would be easy to chastise and ridicule the visitors defence for not intercepting but that would misplaced, harsh; they were never given the opportunity to quell the attacking desire of the move, they never had the opportunity to get close enough to tackle. It was a sublime moment, guaranteed to win Goal of the Season, ensuring continuous rewind of the Season Review dvd.
If the source of the goal was unexpected, the route wasn’t. Arsenal’s delivery from the flanks in the early stages failed to match their artful endeavour in creating the opportunities to cross. Bodies were slow to support Giroud in the centre and the collective intelligence shone through in turning to the short passing game for the first goal. Flamini’s departure caused disruption to the game later on and the pattern of the game was set, Arsenal’s errant ball play gave Norwich impetus that ended with sporadic attempts on goal, shots comfortably dealt with Wojciech Szczesny. The top of the table was being stumbled back into rather than delivered with polished silverware; a picnic not a feast.
Santi Cazorla’s return to the side had been heralded and his involvement in the first goal was crucial. He and Özil combined well, swapping flanks comfortably, prodding and probing the visitors defence even if the end result was not always evident. It was in the second goal, another prime example of teamwork. Ramsey lead the charge with Cazorla, ending with Giroud’s chip into the path of Özil’s well-timed run.
That was the signal for the Welshman to take over as conductor. Everything good from Arsenal was revolving around him. Back-handed praise of how he has pushed himself into the fore of Arsène’s thoughts misses the point; he was there anyway. The third goal summed up his confidence, demanding the pass from Wilshere with such fervour that the England international had no choice but to pass to him. Ramsey wove a path, waiting for impetuous defending to manifest, treating it with the derision it deserved before burying the shot below Ruddy. If the opener shone as a beacon of teamwork, it was the individualism in this team goal that brightened the north London sky.
Ramsey’s goal crushed Norwich’s spirit. It had revived as Arsenal’s passing became disjointed and there seemed a goal for the visitors was on the cards before Özil’s goal. That one came after pushed more wind into the sails of The Canaries, Howson shot low and hard beyond Szczesny whose view was obscured by a defender. The Pole, like Ruddy at the other end, made good saves at important times with a single goal separating the two sides. For Arsenal, it was reassuring to see his concentration levels not waivering as possession remained mired in midfield.
And then came the virtuoso Rosicky, replacing the fatigued Cazorla. Providing the shining light in midfield and giving Arsenal a new zest. Bendtner played his part too, Giroud had his least effective striking game in a while. Two assists isn’t a bad return in those circumstances…
The Dane went close, Ruddy made a solid save from a strong shot as Bendtner’s confidence of two goals against Italy in the recent international became evident. As Norwich sought an equaliser, they were pushed back and eventually stopped by Ramsey’s goal. The fourth, Bendtner linked with Rosicky before the Czech sent a deep cross to the far post, wonderfully cushioned into the path of Özil for a simple tap-in. The icing on the cake and as last season, the visitors undone by a late Arsenal surge.
Previous years have seen stuttering performances immediately after this international break; it was no different this season. Well, it was, more ruthless in despatching their opponents. With the visit of Dortmund on Tuesday, having this match as a warm-up, one to shake loose the cobwebs was no bad thing at all. To come away with a shaft of daylight at the top of the table is a bonus.