Grant Holt gave Norwich City a priceless 1-0 win over Arsenal at Carrow Road, the Canaries’ first win of the season and a hammer blow to the Gunners’ title hopes.
Holt capitalised on an error from Arsenal keeper Vito Mannone 20 minutes in, but the Gunners response was poor, failing to test the opposition keeper despite dominating possession in a dreary match.
Norwich were resolute and organised but the Gunners were poor by their standards and now lie 10 points off leaders Chelsea, with Chris Hughton’s side out of the bottom three at last.
Arsenal started brightly as Lukas Podolski almost exploited a poor John Ruddy clearance but was denied by a fine challenge from Russell Martin, while the Germany international flashed a vicious drive just wide after a lovely one-touch build up.
That was pretty much it for the half as far as Arsenal were concerned as, despite boasting 72 per cent possession, they created next to nothing, overplaying every abortive attack and falling short with the final ball with alarming regularity.
Meanwhile, Norwich took the lead thanks to some poor goalkeeping from Mannone, who spilled a daisy cutter from Alexander Tettey into the path of captain Holt, who gobbled up the easy finish with glee.
Mannone is not a Premier League keeper, and soon after he was all over the place when he inexplicably failed to pick up the ball after a heavy touch from the hardly electric Holt – the Norwich striker was somehow allowed to cross from the byline, but luckily for Arsenal no one was there for the tap in.
A keeper should inspire calm and confidence in a defence but Mannone provoked panic stations whenever the ball was in the air – he stood rooted to his line as an unmarked Michael Turner was afforded a free header from a corner, but the former Hull City and Sunderland defender headed wide.
Half-time could not come soon enough for the Gunners, who looked blunted following the international break.
There was no tangible difference at the start of the second period, as Arsenal continued to toil, while Norwich looked tasty on the break, Holt inches away from converting Javier Garrido’s excellent cross.
Arsenal’s travails were summed up when Giroud made a clumsy mess of a bicycle kick after a weak punch from Ruddy – they may have had all the possession but Norwich still looked more dangerous in the final third.
Arsene Wenger brought Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain into the fray and, while Arsenal looked a touch more threatening, Ruddy was still to be truly tested.
Things got even worse for the Gunners as Oxlade-Chamberlain quickly picked up an injury, Andrei Arshavin given a rare run out in his place.
Norwich, meanwhile, were threatening on the break as Arsenal left huge gaps at the back, Holt shooting well wide and Wes Hoolahan making a mess of his run when the Gunners should have been punished.
Holt had another chance at a run on goal following a Thomas Vermaelen slip, but he is not the best with the ball at his feet and wasted that chance.
Wenger’s last throw of the dice was young German winger Serge Gnabry, Jack Wilshere on the bench but not deemed fit for first-team action after a 14-month absence.
The 17-year-old’s first act was to scuff a shot wide, and he looked well short of a first-team player when he embarrassingly mis-kicked another high into the crowd after a Giroud knock-down.
Arsenal were getting desperate, Mikel Arteta’s weak low drive at Ruddy typifying their malaise, while Norwich continued to ask questions on the counter attack.
That made for a comfortable finish for the hosts, who – aside from a fantastic Sebastien Bassong challenge on Gervinho – had little to worry about as they closed out their first win of the season in surprisingly unthreatened fashion.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Grant Holt – Norwich: The hosts all put in a shift, with striker Holt typifying their effort, if somewhat limited in his technical ability. Deserved his goal and got through a mountain of work.
NORWICH CITY: Ruddy 6, Bassong 7, Turner 6, R Martin 7, Garrido 7, Pilkington 6, Johnson 6, E Bennett 7, Hoolahan 7, Tettey 6, Holt 7. Subs: Snodgrass 6, Morison N/A, R. Bennett N/A
ARSENAL: Mannone 4, Jenkinson 6, Mertesacker 5, Vermaelen 5, Santos 5, Arteta 6, Ramsey 5, Cazorla 5, Gervinho 5, Giroud 6, Podolski 6. Subs: Oxlade-Chamberlain N/A, Arshavin 6, Gnabry 5