Arsenal 3-1 Norwich City: Never in Doubt

This match was a textbook example of how a scoreline doesn't always reflect how well or poorly a given team is playing. While luck almost always normalizes over a course of a full season, it doesn't always do so over the course of 90 minutes. Thankfully, that did happen here just in time to give Arsenal an unspeakably precious three points.

The boss made three changes from the last few weeks, two of them enforced. Thomas Vermaelen was in for the suspended Per Mertesacker, the returning Jack Wilshere in for the injured Tomas Rosicky, and Nacho Monreal was stood down in favor of Kieran Gibbs.

While Norwich aren't quite in the relegation dogfight yet, they aren't miles away either. That may have allowed a certain nervousness to creep into their play, as they erred too far on the side of defensiveness when they may have had more joy testing the BFG-less Arsenal backline.

Meanwhile, Arsenal controlled the play without seriously threatening Mark Bunn in the Norwich goal. You will hear a lot of talk about how poorly the Gunners played, but I think that misses the mark. The passing and movement were largely on point, it was often one final ball that just missed, or one player would make a poor decision (Gervinho, I'm looking at you) that would result in a turnover. It is fairly easy to tell when a team is legitimately playing poorly, and Arsenal were not exhibiting those signs.

The first legitimate scoring chance didn't come until the match was 22 minutes old, Olivier Giroud missing just over the bar from Bacary Sagna's cross. A word about the right back, while we're on the subject - he's had a run of poor form lately, but today he was excellent. His crossing was much improved and he effectively locked down his side of the pitch defensively.

Shortly after, the heavens opened up and in turn the playing conditions suffered. Perhaps that is why a glorious chance went begging when Gervinho was played in past the Canaries' backline. His first touch was poor, and took him out wide. He still managed to round Bunn, but he didn't cleanly strike the ball. It still was wide open on the back post, but Giroud was a bit lazy and hadn't followed through with his run. That should have been 1-0 to the Arsenal several times over.

There were some grumblings in the pub around this time, to which I reassured those around me that we would win. It's true - I never for one second thought that we would lose or even draw this match.

Halftime didn't change much, as Norwich continued to defend well with plenty of yellow shirts behind the ball. Arsenal continued to press but could not find the last link in the chain to fashion any chances. Still, it looked like Norwich was never going to score from open play. Sadly, our customary disorganization from set pieces did us in once again.

An innocuous Norwich attack led to them winning a set piece thanks to a needless foul from Gibbs (as bad as referee Mike Jones was - and make no mistake, he had a shocker - that was a foul all day). The resulting free kick was whipped into the area by Robert Snodgrass. Typically, our center-halves have often been at fault for goals we've conceded in these situations. That wasn't the case this time. The Norwich forwards did a great job of drawing them out to the sides, leaving the center of the penalty area open. Our midfielders didn't know who was marking who, allowing Michael Turner to nod an unmarked header past Lukasz Fabianski and in.

Even still, I felt like our goals were a matter of when, not if. The visitors had gotten a sucker-punch in, but they still had barely any of the ball and Arsenal still looked like they were just a slight alteration away from clicking offensively. To his credit, Arsene Wenger found that alteration with two immediate subs after the goal - the abysmal Gervinho and the knackered Wilshere were taken off for Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott.

Immediately, Arsenal had the threat down the flanks that had been missing. Although Podolski had some dreadful touches that ended a few attacking moves, his presence alone was enough to unsettle Norwich somewhat. Walcott was even more influential, as he wasted no time making rampaging runs down the right.

The visitors continued to hold their line though, and caused a scare themselves when Russell Martin found himself in alone on Fabianski. Thankfully, it was truly the finish of a fullback, thumped right into the Pole's breadbasket.

Inevitability hung in the air like a cloud though, and the Gunners came close when Podolski lashed a shot against the crossbar with Bunn beaten all ends-up. It only took a few further minutes for the equalizer to come, though.

A scramble in the penalty area looked to have been cleared by the Canaries, and Jones had not called anything. The linesman on that side flagged it down, as he had correctly spotted an egregious shirt-pull by Kei Kamara on Giroud. It was brave of the linesman to call it, but the real question is how did the better-placed Jones not spot it? Anyway, Mikel Arteta took the penalty, and in truth it wasn't a great one. Much like Fabianski last week, once Bunn had dived the right way he probably should have saved it. Thankfully it went in off of Bunn's glove, and Arsenal were level.

The tide was starting to roll in on Norwich, and the Gunners seized their first lead just a minute later. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had come on just before the first goal in place of Sagna, and the visitors had no answer for the influx of attacking players. Once the penalty went in, their defense went to pieces and Arsenal ripped them to shreds. The Ox tore down the wing and cut it back for Giroud to tap into the empty net.

Like I said, a matter of time.

However, it all could have been thrown away just a few seconds later. Few of the match reports will mention this as a major moment in the match, but Fabianski had to come up with a big save to deny Jonny Howson. Arsenal had switched off for a second, and the Norwich man took the opportunity to steal in and fire a hard, low shot. Fabianski did fantastically well to block with his feet, and luckily the rebound went out to safety.

That was clearly Norwich's last throw of the dice. But, there was still time for some wonderful irony, as Norwich's endless time-wasting in the second half resulted in six minutes of added time. All that bleeding of the clock managed to accomplish was to give Arsenal time to score a third. Theo was the provider, as he ran down the right and cut it back for Podolski. The German, who for some reason is rumored to be on his way out (let me state on record that it would be a mistake - and if he goes and Gervinho stays, I will absolutely lose my mind), collected the ball and hammered a low shot past the diving Bunn and in.

The win not only put us up into third place, but it knocked our nearest and dearest out of the top four. Does it get any sweeter than that?

There's still a long way to go, and a lot of business to be taken care of in the meantime. Things are looking pretty good at this stage of the season, though. Arsenal are finding ways to get it done even when things are not going well, while our rivals are stumbling. We're not there yet, but we damn sure can see it on the horizon.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Fabianski 8, Gibbs 6, Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 7, Sagna 8 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Arteta 7, Wilshere 7 (Walcott 8), Gervinho 5 (Podolski 7), Cazorla 7, Ramsey 7, Giroud 8

Man of the Match:  I thought about this one for a while. Giroud had a storming game, especially in the second half. Sagna did very well, and Arteta did step up when it mattered (though I thought he was average besides). At the end of the day though, the Norwich defense looked comfortable up until the exact moment that Theo Walcott stepped onto the pitch. His first touch of the ball was a surging run down the right that visibly unsettled our opponents, and that is when we started seeing space open for our other players as well.