In the 12th minute at The Emirates – the amount of years Arsenal have waited for the title, clever, eh? – roughly 10 per cent of the home fans stood and directed A4 sheets with “Time For Change” printed on them at Arsene Wenger standing in his technical area. It was half-hearted at best. The show of discontent was soon answered by the old “We love you Arsenal, we do” ditty from around the ground which then morphed into “There’s only one Arsene Wenger”. The Frenchman stuck up in arm in gratitude.
In terms of attacks on a manager, who had suggested the moodiness at the stadium was hindering the players, it was fairly feeble stuff matched only in its apathy by the pre-match ‘protest’ in front of the steps to The Emirates. That consisted of about 50 blokes milling about with the same sheets of paper and one banner with “Arsene, thanks for the memories but it’s time to say goodbye” across it which was unrolled for the benefit of the photographers who had turned up maybe expecting a more heated atmosphere. It seems most malcontents live in Twitter land not N7.
However, there was certainly a growing unease inside the ground before the introduction of Danny Welbeck in the 56th minute of this 1-0 win for Arsenal that deepens the worry lines for Alex Neil and his Norwich side who sit 19th, two points from safety and strengthens Arsenal’s chances of finishing in the top four, pushing them eight points ahead of West Ham and Manchester United.
Norwich played 4-4-1-1 with Wes Hoolahan getting up to support Cameron Jerome in attack. And they started with more urgency. Having seen Sunderland pick up a point and Newcastle three earlier in the day, they were clearly intent on take advantage of an edgy Arsenal and clamber out of the bottom three.
After just six minutes Norwich almost took the lead after Martin Olsson clipped in a cross from the left, Per Mertesacker’s header was feeble and the ball dropped nicely for Nathan Redmond. The Norwich winger took a touch then shot only for the advancing Petr Cech to save with his legs. Moments later Jerome swung a shot over the bar after a cross from the right.
Arsenal stuttered into life, but, like the pre-match gripers looked only half-bothered. It took 10 minutes for the home side to have an effort on goal, a scuffed Alex Iwobi shot dribbled tamely across goal.
A minute later Aaron Ramsey fed Olivier Giroud – who like a man who has gone 15 league games, or 891 minutes, without a goal – the longest drought of his career – took too long to get a shot off and saw it blocked. Alexis Sanchez then burst down the left following a dummy by Mesut Ozil but his short was also blocked.
As the half meandered on, Arsenal struggled for invention, Norwich, reverting to a 4-5-1 when not on the ball, looked solid in defence. Laurent Koscielny glanced a header wide from an Ozil corner but an unmuddy Ruddy can rarely have had a more comfortable half.
Norwich finished the first half the stronger and should have gone ahead. Redmond had another glorious chance in the 42nd minute, but again could not find a way past Cech, who this time repelled the effort with his gloves. Two minutes later Jonny Howson, after a neat one-two with Jerome, skied his shot from 18 yards.
A Mertesacker hoof into touch summed up the quality on show in the first 45 minutes from the home side and the half-time whistle was met with jeers.
The introduction of Welbeck 10 minutes into the second half, which was greeted by another smattering of boos when it became apparent he would be replacing Iwobi not the goal-shy Giroud, paid off immediately. In the 60th minute, Hector Bellerin swung in a cross, Giroud cushioned a clever header down and Welbeck’s shot took a tiny nick of Seb Bassong’s ankle before finding the corner of Ruddy’s net.
Norwich switched to 4-4-2 with 20 minutes to play bringing on Dieumerci Mbokani to partner Jerome and it almost worked immediately when, but for a well-timed Gabriel challenge, he would have turned in Hoolahan’s cross.
Arsenal nearly exploited Norwich’s adventurousness, an lovely Ozil pass setting Sanchez free. But the Chilean toe-poked a shot straight at Ruddy when a pass to the onrushing and unmarked Hector Bellerin may have been more productive.
Elneny nearly doubled the lead with eight minutes to go but his curling effort with the outside of his right boot was well-saved by Ruddy.
The victory will not placate the haters but keeps the mood in check for a week at least. For Norwich, the fear intensifies.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Cech; Belllerin, Mertesacker (Gabriel 50), Koscielny, Monreal; Ramsey, Elneny; Iwobi (Welbeck 56), Ozil, Sanchez (Coquelin 84); Giroud
Norwich City (4-4-1-1): Ruddy; Pinto, Martin, Bassong (Jarvis 88), Olsson; Redmond, O’Neil, Howson, Brady (Naismith 82); Hoolahan (Mbokani 68), Jerome.
Referee: Mike Jones
Star man: Welbeck
Match rating: 5/10