Brilliant Norwich scupper Arsenal top four hopes

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Arsenal’s top four fate is now out of their hands, as a terrific Norwich City performance held them to a 3-3 draw in an entertaining game at Emirates Stadium.

An early Yossi Benayoun goal was cancelled out by Wes Hoolahan and Grant Holt before half-time, but Steve Morison scored a late equaliser after a Robin van Persie brace had given the Gunners the lead.

Arsene Wenger can once again look to atrocious defending for his team's travails, but Paul Lambert’s side will go away thinking they deserved at least a point and had the chances put the game to bed in the first half

Arsenal made the perfect start to the game and were ahead inside the second minute;Yossi Benayoun was celebrating his birthday and gave himself a fitting gift by combining with Kieran Gibbs on the left before cutting inside to curl a precise finish past John Ruddy.

Norwich responded well to going behind and went about closing down the Gunners with great energy, belying the time of year and the fatigue you would think they were feeling.

Grant Holt had two sights of goal in the first ten minutes following the goal; once from a Simoen Jackson pull-back, but his shot was blocked by Gibbs and he got to a cross ahead of Wojciech Szczesny.

Wenger’s team can’t say they weren’t warned and the Canaries got a deserved equaliser on 12 minute mark. Godd passing play down the Norwich right saw Kyle Naughton get into a good position and he pulled back for Wes Hoolahan, who shot straight at Szczesny, but the Pole couldn’t hold onto it and it squirmed in.

It was a howler from the Arsenal number one and brought about a period of play where the home side looked rattled by Norwich’s high-tempo pressing game.

The turnaround was complete in the 25th minute when more baffling bad defending allowed Norwich to get a three-on-two with Hoolahan running at the defence.

The midfielder played in Holt and his shot took a cruel deflection off of Gibbs and looped over Szczesny to give Norwich the lead. Wenger would have been cursing his luck but it was more complacency against a so-called ‘lesser’ Premier League side that was scuppering Arsenal.

A bad first half got worse with just over half an hour gone when Bacasry Sagna went straight to ground after trying to control a clearance. It looked innocuous but he was stretchered off immediately and replaced by Francis Coquelin.

Arsenal should have drawn level in the 36th minute when Gervinho bundled into the area on the left, but his pull-back was only screwed wide by Gibbs.

The home crowd were urging their team forward but they were lucky nit to be down to ten men with five minutes of the half remaining when a petulant kick out from Benayoun on Simon Lappin only got him a talking to.

Norwich had a shout for a penalty just a couple of minutes before half-time when a cleared corner was swung back in and Laurent Koscienly appeared to have a hold of Russell Martin as the two fell to the floor in a bundle.

Paul Lambert was fuming on the touchline and Arsenal looked to have got away with what should have been a spot-kick.

Norwich ended a fine first-half display with another sight of goal as further poor defending from the Gunner almost allowed Hoolahan to play in Holt, but a last-ditch tackle from Koscielny stopped a certain goal.

Boos rang out as the half-time whistle was blown and Wenger would have been fuming after his side put in an abysmal display for a side pushing for Champions League football.

The second half far more positively and should have been level after Gervinho found Robin van Persie, but the Dutchman’s square ball across goal caught Benayoun on his heels.

The Canaries again showed why they had caused so many problems for the Gunners in this game when Jackson controlled a high clearance and ran unchallenged at the defence and strolled past Thomas Vermaelen, but his finish was straight at Szczesny when he should have scored.

Again the equaliser should have come when Yossi Benayoun could only find the arms of Ruddy when he had a free header from Tomas Rosicky’s free-kick.

Fifteen minutes into the half and both sides should have added to their tallies as the game opened up almost comically.

First Jackson could not get on the end of a Noughton cross flashed across the box, Holt played in Hoolahan to only shoot wide before both Robin van Persie and Aaron Ramsey missed golden opportunities.

Wenger was a picture of nervousness on the touchline as he watched his side’s suicidal defending and profligacy in front of goal.

Lambert next to him looked pensive as his side missed numerous chances to put the game to bed.

In the 66th minute Van Persie missed again after being played in by Benayoun but it was Vermaelen a minute later who was next to miss from a few yards out.

The Belgian sent Gervinho down the left, his long run and square ball found Vermaelen continuing his run but the shot was straight at Martin when the he should have scored.

The Canaries were finally punished in the 71st minute when another penalty box melee saw substitute Marouane Chamakh have a shot blocked from ten yards.

The ball came out to Alex Song on the edge of the box and he did what he has done on a number of occasions this season by chipping over the defence for Van Persie to guide into the corner with his left foot on the volley.

It was cruel on Lambert’s side, who had been brilliant up until that point but the game should have been won with the chances they had missed and the opportunities given to the Gunners.

The atmosphere turned in an instant and Arsenal streamed forward looking for the winner. They had their own calls for a penalty turned down minutes later when substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s crossed hit the arm of Jonny Howson.

It would have been harsh, but the former Leeds United captain was risking an unfortunate call by having his hands in the air.

Emirates Stadium erupted in the 78th minute when the comeback was complete and there will be no prizes for guessing who it was. Robin van Persie pounced onto Rosicky’s deflected pass and his shot bounced off of Ruddy into the roof of the net.

The Gunners were once again in the driving seat but it was unfortunate on Norwich as they had done more than enough during the course of the game to have something.

Justice of sorts was done when an extraordinary game turned once again with five minutes remaining; Howson turned in midfield and his lobbed pass found Steve Morison running through on goal.

The man who replaced captain Holt was a picture of composure as he buried a low shot across goal. It was no more than they deserved but, once again, Arsenal’s defence was far too accommodating.

Van Persie missed the chance to win the game when Rosicky’s through ball gave the Arsenal captain only Ruddy to beat but the finish was poor and Norwich were let off.

Wenger was fuming just a minute later when an Oxlade-Chamberlain cross found the league’s top scorer with an open goal, but he was bundled over by Naughton.

Referee Taylor inexplicably didn’t give a penalty and the home side were in a state of disbelief at what should have been a spot=kick.

Ruddy was called into action again in the 90th minute and saved brilliantly from a Song back-heel, following more good work from the impressive Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right.

The Norwich goalkeeper saved his team once more in the dying seconds of injury time when he smothered a Gibbs header when the full-back was unmarked and four yards out.

The final whistle was met with boos as Wenger’s side inability to keep a clean sheet had scuppered them once more, leaving their Champions League fate in the hands of others.

They will be hoping Manchester City and Aston Villa can halt Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United on Sunday, otherwise a top four finish will look increasingly unlikely.

Norwich, on the other hand, will be delighted with a tremendous performance of counter-attacking football and they will even be thinking they had enough chances to win the game.

It was tremendous game at Emirates Stadium with both sides having handfuls of chances, but both sides will leave thinking they should have had more.

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