Another two goals for Robin van Persie, another win for Arsenal
It's November. It's a game between Norwich City and the Arsenal. Ah, memories, memories. So as a special treat, here's the legendary David Lacey's commentary of that memorable day at Highbury in November 1989...
The King of Norway is no stranger to the ways of English football, but after watching the bizarre events at Highbury. His Majesty may have wondered why spectators in this country are threatened with ID cards when it seems clear a better purpose would be served were players licensed, like both kinds of boxer.
Shortly before the start, the teams lined up as demurely as the chorus of HMS Pinafore to applaud David O'Leary, who was breaking George Armstrong's record with his 622nd Arsenal appearance. An hour-and threequarters later all but a handful of these same players were behaving like drunken sailors in a dockside brawl.
The cause was not so much that Norwich had managed to lose 4-3 after leading 2-0 at half-time and 3-2 with 13 minutes to go, but that Arsenal had won with the aid of two penalties, each of which contained such doubt that the case might never have come to court.
Dixon's second penalty, moreover, arrived in injury time and he only scored from the rebound after Gunn had saved his kick. Smith followed the ball into the net and was set upon by enraged opponents. Winterburn charged up to help his team-mate and within seconds 19 players were involved in a melee near the right-hand corner flag.
Gordon, Norwich's right-winger, appeared to throw a punch at Winterbum and afterwards Arsenal's managing director. Ken Friar, said he understood Smith had suffered a cut above an eye. Otherwise those involved equivocated to such an extent that the worst incident of the season so far could well pass off unpenalised by any official action.
Fundamental to any inquiry is the report of the referee, and unless George Tyson changes his mind, the FA are not going to hear about the fight from him. After the match Tyson, one of the League's most experienced referees, hurried away from Highbury like a man leaving the scene of an accident
No, he said, he was not going to report what happened at the end. Nor were the police prepared to take action. They were happy to let the matter rest and so was he. "It was a game of football I enjoyed," he added.
While seven goals and a scrap may give some people vicarious pleasure - and after such a moribund start you could not complain about lack of incident - it is hard to wonder what goes on in players' minds.
Niall Quinn said that as the fight broke up one of the police officers in attendance told him the players were acting like a bunch of women. "Looking back," said Quinn, "he was probably right." No, Mr Quinn, he was completely wrong. You were acting like a bunch of footballers.
The most surprising aspect was that O'Leary helped turn the match sour. From the start Allen, the Norwich striker he was marking, set out to compensate for a lack of inches by backing into O'Leary, digging his elbows into the centre-back's ribs and throwing him off balance when the pair challenged for high balls.
It is more than likely that in his previous 621 appearances for Arsenal O'Leary has had to deal with nuisances of this sort from time to time. But now he grew fractious and started to foul Allen off the ball.
Just before the half-hour, Allen had another dig at the Irishman but the referee ignored it, whereupon an angry O'Leary was booked for giving away the free-kick from which Phillips scored Norwich's second goal with a clever shot over the wall and just beyond Lukic's reach. This might have explained the angry gesture by O'Leary towards Allen at the end, but it did not excuse it.
Since Arsenal had already fallen behind to a smart header from Allen, a more imaginative though more cautious Norwich side looked the probable winners. They lost, not just because of. the penalties but because under mounting Arsenal pressure their defence lost its shape, and because Gunn, after holding well-hit long shots in the first half, began to let them go in the second.
Quinn scored Arsenal's first goal after Gunn had not held Richardson's shot, and their third came when the goalkeeper fumbled O'Leary's header against the near post and over the line. It was O'Leary's first goal in the League since finding Manchester United's net at Highbury in May, 1983.
A minute earlier, mis-handling by Lukic allowed Sherwood briefly to restore the lead Norwich had seen disappear with the first Arsenal penalty. Referees can act on only what they see, or think they see, and Tyson thought he saw Linighan deliberately handle.
Dixon took his first penalty for Arsenal with aplomb. His second, even more controversial, was given because the referee ruled that Butterworth had held Thomas when it appeared to be more a case of Thomas backing into Butterworth. "He grabbed him," Tyson insisted but, perhaps mindful of TV, refused to say who he thought the grabber was.
Dave Stringer, Norwich's manager, was wise to keep his own counsel on matters; otherwise he might be facing a disrepute charge. Yet after what happened you cannot help wondering if football has much of a reputation to lose. A king's rhapsody it was not.
We could do without the fisticuffs today, I guess, though seven goals would be nice. And with both these sides committed to the beautiful game, and neither very clever in defence, it may be a dream, but it's not a pipe dream. Actually we'd also take no goals and another 21-man pile-on, right? Right.
Kick off (though not in that sense): 12.45pm.
Norwich City: Ruddy, Naughton, Russell Martin, Barnett, Tierney, Crofts, Johnson, Fox, Pilkington, Hoolahan, Morison.
Subs: Rudd, Drury, Holt, Jackson, Surman, Bennett, Wilbraham.
The Arsenal: Szczesny, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Andre Santos, Ramsey, Arteta, Song, Walcott, van Persie, Gervinho.
Subs: Fabianski, Rosicky, Djourou, Arshavin, Chamakh, Benayoun, Coquelin.
Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire)
The teams are out! Lining up for the handshakes and other assorted wastes of time. We'll be under way very soon. "Does the catering at Carrow Road live up to the Delia-esque high expectations and, if so, is it even superior to the Emirates' effette North London culinary charms?" wonders our good friend Ryan Dunne, for once resisting the urge to mention that he's a fan of Rangers FC. Is this some sort of sub-conscious shame regarding the gastronomic delights of Govan and its immediate environs?
And we're off! And within 40 seconds, Walcott is ripping down the right and pulling a low ball back into the middle from the byline for hotboots Van Persie. The Arsenal captain scuffs a shot wide left from eight yards out.
2 min: This is a bright start by in-form Arsenal. Gervinho skips down the left. Another low ball's cut back into the middle, this time for Walcott, who aims for the right-hand side of goal from the edge of the area, but sees his shot deflected out for a corner. From which Koscielny wins a header, but that's about all you can say for it.
4 min: Pilkington is this close to gaining a yard on Koscielny down the left. If he was another step ahead of his man, he'd have been able to slip a ball into the centre for Morison, who was screaming for the pass. So far, about 20 seconds of this game has been played in the midfield. Keep it up, please, people!
6 min: Andre Santos strides down the left and slips a ball forward for Van Persie, who makes space for himself down the inside-left channel and unleashes a rare old wallop, the ball fizzing in the direction of the bottom-right corner but just wide of the post. Arsenal are looking very dangerous down either flank, and none too soft in the centre, either.
9 min: Pilkington brings down a high ball brilliantly, cushioning it out of the air with his instep down the right. He turns and begins the process of a clever one-two with Morison; the latter's return ball is weak, which is a shame for Norwich, as the excellent Pilkington would have been free in the area, albeit coming in from a tight angle. A few seconds before, Ramsey was nearly found clear in the Norwich box by a diagonal ball from the right. This is a very free-flowing game of attacking football, both sides bringing something to the table. You do get the sense that Arsenal are the more likely to open the scoring, mind.
12 min: Arsenal nearly open the scoring. Walcott picks the ball up in the Norwich area, just to the right of goal. He drops a shoulder and cuts inside, sending Tierney off to the wrong fire. Walcott's rising shot is heading in, but Martin twists and turns in mid air, sticks out a leg, and deflects the ball over the bar and wide. That is an absolutely stunning clearance. There follows a corner, which isn't worth mentioning.
16 min: GOAL!!! AND WHAT TERRIBLE DEFENDING! Norwich City 1-0 Arsenal. Morison chases after Mertesacker, who is in turn haring after a bouncing ball down the inside-left channel. It should be an easy clearance for the German international, but he faffs around, allowing Morison to barge past his shoulder. Suddenly Morison is one on one with Szczesny, and he makes no mistake, slotting into the bottom-left corner. That was farcical from Arsenal's point of view, and it isn't the first time this season we've said that.
18 min: An immediate response by Arsenal, van Persie with the ball at his feet, ten yards out, just to the right of goal. That's also where the ball goes once the striker shoots. Wide, and in the side netting. A magnificent chance to bounce back immediately, but it's been spurned.
20 min: Walcott diddles around down the right, winning a corner. Once again, nothing comes of it. Arsenal have had the lion's share of possession and territory, but look at that scoreline. Oh Per!
21 min: Andre Santos cuts in from the left and looks to curl one into the top right. Ruddy is behind it all the way. Meanwhile here's our Glaswegian pal Ryan Dunne (of pre-match chit-chat fame) on the culinary delights of his home town. "Shame? Au contraire! That said, I do sometimes wonder if all football teams do home tops that go up to XXXXXL, or if this a peculiarly Glasweigan problem."
23 min: For the second time in the match, Martin clears off the line. This time it's an easy-enough header, but he'd positioned himself well. Andre Santos had crossed deep from the left, Van Persie had looped a header back from the right over Ruddy. Arsenal are getting a wee bit frustrated already.
24 min: It's a Russell Martin hat-trick! Gervinho bursts clear down the inside-left channel. He's one on one with Ruddy, and aims for the bottom-right corner. The ball pings off the keeper's chest, but is still heading in. However as the ball sails towards the empty net, Martin comes over to hoof clear. What a performance by the Norwich centre back.
26 min: THIS HAD BEEN COMING. Norwich City 1-1 Arsenal. Walcott taps the ball past Tierney, who is looking increasingly hapless, and zips off down the right. Once he's level with the edge of the six-yard box, he hammers a low cross into the centre, where van Persie continues his hot streak by sidefooting home into an empty net, Ruddy having been drawn to his near post to close down Walcott. So simple. A minor element of farce, as the ball reached Gervinho before van Persie; Gervinho tries a Lee Sharpe-esque backflick, but fresh airs it.
29 min: A long ball releases Morison down the inside right. But Morison doesn't have the silky control of, say, Pilkington in the same area of the pitch a wee bit earlier, and allows the ball to squeak under his foot. He could still keep the move going, but can't trap the ball second time round either. He at least has the decency to look embarrassed as the ball sails out of play.
32 min: Norwich pass the ball beautifully at times. They string about 20 passes together, ignoring one quick intervention from an Arsenal shirt, and twice nearly release a player down the right, Morison first, Johnson second. They win their first corner of the match, from which little happens. But that was a very pretty passage of play.
35 min: Johnson dispossesses Ramsey in the centre, exchanges passes with Morison, and shapes to shoot from the edge of the area before being hassled off the ball. Seconds later, a sleepy Ramsey is yet again robbed of the ball, this time by Crofts, who is unlucky not to break through a challenge by Song and tear clear down the right. Norwich have responded well to the period of Arsenal pressure that ended in their goal.
38 min: Gervinho cuts inside from the left and sees his shot deflected out for a corner. Ruddy claims, and launches a huge throw into the Arsenal half, setting Morison off down the right. The Norwich man has space, and makes the edge of the area, before floating a strange looping shot-cum-cross towards the top left. For a second it looks like beating Szczesny, Seaman style, and landing into the net, but it's only a very brief second. It quickly becomes clear that the ball is in fact sailing miles from danger. Maybe I was imagining things, that's also a possibility.
41 min: Gervinho stands around down the right for a while, then suddenly bursts forward into the box. The violent cranking up of speed disturbs the Norwich back line, who panic. They're all over the shop. But as Gervinho slips the ball to van Persie, who is seemingly standing in acres level with the right-hand post, Barnett pops out of thin air to clatter the ball clear. Great defending.
44 min: A lull, the first of the half. This has been a highly entertaining match so far.
HALF TIME: Norwich City 1-1 Arsenal. Norwich stroke it around for a while. A bit like Brazil. The yellow Cowdenbeath. And that's it for the half.
When in Rome, and all that.
And we're off again! A change for Norwich: Fox off, Bennett on. "Irrespective of the second half, Russell Martin should be the man of the match," opines Phil Withall. "His first goal line clearance was reminiscent of Gordon Banks save against Pele."
47 min: A positive start by Bennett, who reaches the byline down the right and stands one up into the centre. Hoolahan and Morison are both a wee bit ahead of the ball, which was a shame for Norwich, as the Arsenal back line were still in the dressing room sucking on their orange slices.
49 min: Walcott is given yards and yards in the middle of the park to romp about in. He embarks on a speedy run towards the Norwich box, and slips a firm pass down the inside-right to release van Persie, but the striker's offside. Walcott has been very impressive today.
50 min: Walcott, down the left, dinks a cross into the centre for Gervinho, who heads straight at Ruddy. Arsenal have clearly been issued with some sort of half-time bollocking.
52 min: Crofts is edged to the floor by Koscielny, just to the right of the Arsenal D. Free kick. Pilkington steps up and strikes a confident effort towards the top-left corner, but Szczesny is behind it all the way, and plucks it out of the air.
54 min: Naughton takes the ball off Gervinho as the Arsenal man looks to break free down the left. Lovely defending, but then he Mertesackers around, allowing Gervinho to steal the thing back off him. Luckily for Naughton, he's spared any agony by his team-mates, who crowd Gervinho out of it before he can shoot.
55 min: Walcott, at high speed, reaches the byline down the right, and hammers a cross towards the near post. Van Persie, bombing in, hits a first-time shot into the side netting.
56 min: Gervinho is released down the middle by a delicious slide-rule reverse pass from van Persie. It looks like he's going to knock the ball into an empty net, having rounded Ruddy on the right, but somehow the keeper rises from the dead and parries. Gervinho is stunned into inaction, and the chance is gone. What a save! I'm not sure you can criticise Gervinho too much for that miss, it was a fantastic last-ditch spread by Ruddy.
59 min: Norwich have pushed Arsenal back in their own half. They're still not seeing much of the ball, but at least the visitors aren't creating any havoc for the minute. "Just wondering, what does Marc Tierney do for a living?" miaows J.R. from Illinois.
60 min: GOAL!!! Norwich City 1-2 Arsenal. Song and Ramsey pick the pocket of Johnson in the centre circle. Song glides forward, slipping the ball down the inside-right channel to release van Persie, who draws Ruddy and clips an exquisite finish just inside the right-hand post. J.R. from Illinois might be interested to hear that poor Tierney was nowhere to be seen.
62 min: Bennett loops a high cross into the Arsenal area from a tight position on the right-hand touchline, but there's no yellow shirts in the area, and Szczesny plucks the ball from the sky with ease.
65 min: Bennett steals a yard down the right and whips a low ball into the centre. At the near post, Pilkington meets, but can only waft a sidefoot well wide left of the target. A decent connection, and Arsenal would have been in all sorts of trouble.
66 min: Bennett is booked for crudely taking down Gervinho from behind, a proper clumsy rake across the shins.
68 min: Vermaelen slips a low pass down the inside-left channel for Gervinho, who looks to drop a shoulder and cut inside for the shot. He lets the ball clank between his feet. Walcott, hanging around behind him, picks up the ball and has a shot himself, but it's nothing to write home about. It's nothing worth writing about in an MBM, either, so.
69 min: A second change for the home side, as Hoolahan is replaced by Holt.
71 min: A free kick from the left by Norwich. The ball's sent to the far post, where Holt is lurking, but Vermaelen heads powerfully clear. City aren't doing much up front at all.
73 min: Another lovely van Persie pass from the centre of the park. It splits the Norwich defence open again, setting Ramsey free, but Barnett steps in to put a stop to the Arsenal midfielder's gallop. A fine tackle, just as Ramsey was cocking his leg to shoot.
75 min: Holt muscles Mertesacker off the ball, the German bouncing off the striker's back as he's turned. Holt would be free down the inside-left channel, but the referee blows for a foul. The right decision, but a very modern one. Mertesacker isn't a big fan of rough and tumble, on the whole.
77 min: A close-range slapshot by Gervinho, straight at Ruddy. Down the other end, Bennett sends a long-distance daisycutter wide left. It's like a very low-scoring basketball match, this game.
78 min: Benayoun, who has yet to start a game for Arsenal, makes another substitute appearance. He comes on for Gervinho, who has been not all that far from awful today.
80 min: Arsenal are doing a good job of quietly taking the heat out of this game. They're stroking it around the middle of the park in the grand fashion.
81 min: Tierney, who has been all over the place today, is booked for clumsily taking down Walcott as the Arsenal winger looks to scamper free down the right.
82 min: A final throw of the dice by Paul Lambert, Pilkington being replaced by Jackson.
84 min: Van Persie, who needless to say has been immense today, nearly releases Benayoun into the area down the inside-left channel. Three Norwich shirts buzz around Benayoun and make off with the ball.
86 min: Holt bundles himself into Mertesacker, looking for a penalty. He's booked for his sauce.
88 min: Ramsey eats up the yards in the Norwich half. Eventually he feeds Walcott, on the right-hand corner of the box. Walcott decides he's due a dig, having worked his socks off today, and so unleashes a magnificent rising effort off the outside of the right-hand post. So unlucky.
89 min: Down the other end, Jackson sends a shot just over the bar from a ludicrous distance. Magnificent effort, if overly ambitious.
90 min: There will be three added minutes of this. Norwich look unlikely to salvage anything from this; Arsenal are closing this game down nicely.
90 min +1: Andre Santos nudges Holt in the back, who goes down very easily indeed. A free kick to Norwich, just to the right of goal, 25 yards out.
90 min +2: Before the free kick can be taken, Djourou replaces Walcott. Johnson, looking for a team-mate's head at the left-hand post, sends a hopeless set piece straight down Szczesny's throat.
FULL TIME: Norwich City 1-2 Arsenal. And that's that! Arsenal have now won six out of their last seven; they're now level on points with Chelsea and Tottenham, in sixth place. Norwich stay in ninth. Another deserved win for Robin van Persie.