Norwich City 1-2 Arsenal: The Run Continues

On a day in which rumors out of France indicate that this season may be le grande finale for M. Wenger, Arsenal have notched their sixth straight league victory since the debacle at Shite Hart Lane. In all likelihood, the Premiership is out of reach once again this season - but on this evidence, isn't it within the realm of possibility that we can send the Boss into the sunset with the FA and/or League Cups?

That is rather getting ahead of ourselves, though. This was a matter of navigating a tricky league fixture that - before the season started - may have been seen as three points already in the bag. To give credit where its due though, Paul Lambert has the Canaries playing some good football and proving to be a tough out for the big sides. Chelski were damn lucky to see them off at Stamford Bridge, that's for sure.

As for us, the lineup was largely what you'd expect, with the exception of Laurent Koscielny preferred at the problematic right back position to Johan Djourou. "Arsenal right back" is quickly becoming like "Spinal Tap drummer" with Bacary Sagna's broken leg and Carl Jenkinson's back strain. This meant that Per Mertesacker would partner Thomas Vermaelen in central defense, giving us what I still consider to be our strongest back line in Sagna's absence (today's events aside).

Recent matches have seen Arsenal slowly begin to abandon the third-rate tiki-taka approach for something more of a hybrid approach - Wengerball with a splash of blunt directness. The trend continued today, as Arsenal could have been 1-0 up inside of the first minute. Theo Walcott has been almost unrecognizable from what he was earlier in the season (I can't imagine Fabio Capello cracking a smile, but if anything can manage it, it's Feo's recent form), and his run down the right-hand side left the Norwich left back for dead. He sent a good ball into the middle, but it got caught up in Robin van Persie's feet. The shot went wide, but the first warning shot was fired.

A minute later, the Gunners were threatening again - this time down the other flank. Gervinho started the move, and his cut-back came to Walcott. The shot went wide, but this was all good, positive stuff from the men in red.

The home side, having weathered those early shots across the bow, got back into the game and started looking for opening themselves. Still, the next chance was also Arsenal's, as RVP's long-range effort was just the wrong side of the post. A few minutes later, Russell Martin somehow managed to deflect Walcott's goal-bound effort with a ridiculous Bruce Lee flying karate kick of a clearance. The frustration is that 9 times out of 10, a defender doing that will only help the ball into the net - this time, it was well over the crossbar. Bloody hell.

So, of course Norwich opened the scoring right after.

A long ball over the top of the Arsenal defense seemed to be no trouble for Per Mertesacker. The big German easily got position on Steve Morison, and should have been able to shepherd the ball away with a minimum of fuss. However, it seems that Mertesacker isn't quite used to English center-forwards yet: I doubt there is anywhere on Earth that preaches mindless exertion towards lost causes than in England, and this was one of those rare cases where it reaps the benefits. Morison closed in, muscled Mertesacker off the ball entirely too easily, and was left with a simple low finish past the advancing Wojceich Szczesny. Carrow Road went mental, and the Canaries had an unlikely 1-0 lead.

The good news though is that, like the last few times we've conceded a sickening early goal, the side did not hang their heads and they didn't collapse. Instead, they got right back to the business of getting back to level terms as quickly as possible. RVP had a good chance go begging less than 60 seconds later with a shot into the side netting, and the excellent Andre Santos saw a long shot go into the hands of John Ruddy.

Neither of those chances were as good as the next one, in which Martin was the villain for Arsenal again. Santos' cross was headed on goal by RVP, and Ruddy was beaten. However, Martin was perfectly positioned to clear off the line, giving him his second vital block of the game. Not one minute later, he popped up again to deny the Gunners once again. Gervinho found room down the left and cut in to take a shot. Ruddy got down well to get a leg on it, but it looped up and back towards the net. Somehow, Martin came out of nowhere to hack it clear from the line.

Seriously, this man was royally getting on my tits at this point.

In the 26th minute though, Martin ran out of tricks and Arsenal were level. Once again, that man Walcott destroyed the fullback and drew Ruddy out as he cut inside. His low cross to RVP met with no resistance this time, and the Dutch wizard was able to sidefoot home from a few yards out. Now it was the Blind Pig's turn to go mental, and honestly at this point I felt like there would only ever be one winner.

That's right - me, Mr. Pessimism, is starting to believe in the side in these situations again.

With that, the half finally settled down enough for everyone to catch their breath. It was quite the entertaining 45 minutes, and the second half was probably never going to quite provide the same amount of thrills and spills. Needless to say, I didn't mind quite so much as the second half would prove to be more under control for the visitors.

That said, Norwich had the first decent chance of the second stanza. A foul by Laurent Koscielny gave the Canaries a free kick on the left side of the area. It was hammered into the six-yard box by Anthony Pilkington, but Szczesny was well-positioned and managed to hang on at the first attempt. By the way, that is one of those saves that doesn't look all that difficult, as he was standing mostly still and made what looked like a simple catch. But, that shot was well-hit and to catch and hold it straightaway was quite impressive from the young Pole.

A few minutes later, Arsenal should have been ahead. RVP's through-ball eviscerated the static Norwich backline, and Gervinho was in alone on Ruddy. He rounded the keeper and had the entire net at his mercy. Sadly, the Ivorian was far too casual with his finish, allowing Ruddy to recover and make a fabulous save to block at his feet. You have to applaud the keeper there, but likewise you have to be somewhat disappointed with Gervinho.

Not to worry though, Gooners. That was but a momentary setback, as the Arsenal were ahead to stay four minutes later. The move began when Martin, who had advanced a bit ahead of the rest of the defense to play the ball - turned it over under pressure from Song. The Cameroonian's diagonal pass found the run of RVP, who somehow found the millimeter of space available over the advancing Ruddy to hook it over him and into the net. That was a finish that defies superlatives - the captain just gets better and better.

At this point, Arsenal were content to keep the ball as much as possible. Finally, it seems like this side is learning how to approach these difficult away matches with a late lead. In turn, Norwich turned up the aggression and started to see some yellow cards (a quick aside - the normally execrable Phil Dowd actually had a pretty good game today - I know, I'm scared too). The see-you-next-Tuesday factor increased tenfold as the strangely anonymous Wes Hoolahan was withdrawn in favor of Professional Asshole Grant Holt.

For his first trick, he slyly fouled Mertesacker when the German was in possession. It was a damn good thing that Dowd spotted it and called it correctly, as otherwise the little prick was in alone on Szczesny. Next, he hurled himself backwards into Mertesacker in the penalty area, and theatrically flung himself backwards. Again, Dowd didn't buy it for a second. Seriously, mate - please find a high building to jump off of, preferably aiming for an extremely sharp object. The pit stage of Mortal Kombat springs to mind.

Beyond Holt's ongoing impersonation of Kevin Davies, Arsenal controlled much of the ball and managed to play out time. In fact, Walcott almost got the goal he deserved in the last minute of regular time as well. He received a pass from Aaron Ramsey and, from the corner of the penalty area, took a few steps in and hammered one towards the top corner of the near post. Ruddy was comprehensively beaten, but had positioned himself well and left Walcott precious little to shoot at. Sadly, the shot hit the top of the crossbar and went out of play. It was a hell of an effort though - more of this please, Feo!

Injury time was mostly played out with little incident, but there was still time for Holt to make his mark. He went down easier than Jenna Jameson to the challenge of Santos, and this time Dowd did incorrectly call the foul. One last set piece then, the bane of Arsenal's existence. I admit to a brief moment of worry, but Bradley Johnson's effort was calmly taken by Szczesny, and that was that.

Three huge points then, and now (at least at the time I write this), Arsenal are level with the both London-based rivals in a tie for sixth place. Who could have foreseen this when we were in the mire in 15th place, huh? Six wins from seven in the league, and a good chance to keep the run going with Fulham, Wigan and Everton upcoming. Before that though, there's the small matter of Borussia Dortmund in the Champions' League, and the Arabian Petro-Money All-Stars in the League Cup.

You know what, though? I'm actually kind of hopeful at this point. Perhaps this team will, once again, take the football away at the last second like a Charlie Brown comic. Then again, maybe they won't. Come on, Arsenal...let's really kick on from here and salvage something from the shit-show that was the first two months of the season.

SIDE-NOTE: There was a brilliant rendition of "Hava Negila" upon Benayoun's introduction to the match by one of the faithful at the Blind Pig. Sure, if you didn't come out because of the early start time, you are much more well-rested than I am. But, you also miss cool shit like that!

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Santos 7, Vermaelen 8, Mertesacker 5, Koscielny 7, Gervinho 6 (Benayoun 6), Arteta 7, Song 7, Ramsey 7, Walcott 9 (Djourou N/A), van Persie 9

Man of the Match: I wavered back and forth for a while on this - any other day and it would have been Walcott. I had to give it to Robin van Persie, though.