Steve Morison’s late equaliser earned Norwich a draw that could put a major dent in Arsenal’s Champions League hopes should other results go against them this weekend.
Birthday boy Yossi Benayoun curled in a shot with barely a minute gone to give Arsenal the lead but Wojciech Szczesny somehow allowed Wes Hoolahan’s tame effort to beat him. Grant Holt’s deflected shot put Norwich ahead but Robin van Persie levelled with a volley and completed the comeback with a well-hit second just ten minutes from time. But Morison’s 85th minute equaliser brought the Canaries level in a thrilling finish to compound Arsenal’s recent poor run of results.
The result extends Arsenal’s winless run to four games, and seriously damages their chances of qualifying for the Champions League. Aresenal’s chances of qualification are no longer solely in their hands.
After last week’s 1-1 draw at Stoke, Wenger admitted that his team were over-reliant on Van Persie’s goals, and this performance did little to disprove that view.
Van Persie, who only has one year remaining on his contract, thought he had once again come to his side’s rescue when he extended his remarkable goal tally to 37, but Norwich substitute Morison had other ideas.
Wenger could point to referee Anthony Taylor’s failure to award a penalty for Kyle Naughton’s blatant push on Van Persie in stoppage time but Norwich’s positive approach and impressive late defending certainly merited a point.
The Arsenal manager had insisted that there should be no need for nerves from his players, but even if there was any anxiety it should have been disappeared when Benayoun swept in. Tomas Rosicky seized on a loose clearance to pick out the Israeli, who used an overlapping run from Kieran Gibbs to dummy and create the space to bend a shot into the far corner.
Despite their recent slump, Norwich responded well and they pulled level when Naughton pulled back and Szczesny made a mess of Hoolahan’s first-time shot.
The visitors then pulled ahead just before the half-hour, when Hoolahan found Holt who’s deflected shot bet Szczesny.
After losing Bacary Sagna to injury, things could have got even worse for the hosts.
Benayoun got away with kicking out at Ryan Bennett and Norwich had valid penalty appeals for Francis Coquelin’s sliding tackle on Hoolahan and Laurent Koscielny’s tug on Martin. Simeon Jackson should have added a third after the break when he tore away from Thomas Vermaelen only to fail to trouble Szczesny.
Rosicky’s free-kick picked out Benayoun but he headed straight at John Ruddy. It was by no means one-way traffic, and Norwich came close as Hoolahan clipped a volley wide from a Grant Holt flick.
Van Persie had barely been involved but the Dutchman made no mistake after 71 minutes when he volleyed in from Alex Song’s fine pass. Their partnership adding another assist for Song who seems to have an almost telepathic understanding with RVP.
The Dutch international had another effort held by Ruddy but put Arsenal in front when his shot from just inside the area bet Ruddy to put Arsenal back on track to a crucial victory.
But there was one to be ultimately disappointment for the Gunners fan as Morison pulled the visitors level once again when he raced on to a through ball and powered a shot past Szczesny for his first goal since January.
Still the chances came thick and fast. Ruddy saved from Van Persie, who was then denied a late penalty when he went down under a barge from Naughton before the Norwich goalkeeper pulled off a fine block from Song. And Ruddy was outstanding once again as he somehow got a hand to a header from Gibbs, giving Norwich a well-deserved point.
It means the battle for 3rd place will now stretch to the final day of the season and undoubtedly there will be nervous moments for Arsenal as they travel to West Brom to try claim a Champions League spot for next season.