Race for European football hots up

Arsenal concede late goal against Norwich that boosts Tottenham and Newcastle's chance of Champions League football.

    Race for European football hots up
    Norwich's Steve Morison (R) celebrates scoring goal that could have big impact on top of table [AFP]

    Arsenal started the season poorly, and despite a mid-season recovery, it's growing more likely that they shall end it poorly too.

    A couple of weeks ago a top three finish looked a certainty for the London club who had opened up a gap ahead of local rivals Tottenham.

    However, a thrilling match at the Emirates finished with Arsenal losing two vital points after conceding a late goal to Norwich on Saturday.

    "We have got fantastic team spirit and today we showed what we are all about. At the start of the season we had a target of 40 points and we have got there and then some"

    Norwich's Steve Morison

    The 3-3 draw puts Arsenal only two points ahead of Tottenham and Newcastle, who both have a game in hand. If Spurs and Newcastle can win their next two matches, Arsenal will finish in fifth position and outside the Champions League places.

    Even fourth position will not be enough for the Gunners if Chelsea defeat Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.

    A furious Arsene Wenger quickly disappeared down the tunnel following a shambolic defensive display from his side and a number of dubious refereeing decisions. It was not the way the Arsenal manager would have chosen to celebrate his 900th game in charge of the London side.

    Robin van Persie looked to have sealed a valuable comeback win for Arsenal when he equalled Thierry Henry's Arsenal record of 30 goals in a Premier League season with a late double inside eight minutes before Steve Morison's leveller.

    The point lifted Norwich to 13th in the standings.

    "I think Arsenal thought we were going to be a pushover today. We came here with nothing to play for but you can see
    from the way we played how much it means to the lads," Morison said.

    "We have got fantastic team spirit and today we showed what we are all about. At the start of the season we had a target of 40 points and we have got there and then some."

    Gunning ahead

    Arsenal looked to be on course for a win when Yossi Benayoun marked his 32nd birthday with the opening goal. The Israel international picked the ball up on the left side of the Norwich penalty area, cut inside and curled a shot over goalkeeper John Ruddy into the far corner.

    That should have settled any nerves for Arsenal, but instead, the visitors were galvanized.

    The equaliser came in the 12th minute after Kyle Naughton raced forward down the left flank and played the ball through to Wes Hoolahan on the penalty spot. The Ireland midfielder did not connect properly with his shot but it was enough to squirm past goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and across the line.

    Norwich went ahead in the 27th after a quick break saw Hoolahan release Grant Holt at the edge of the Arsenal area. As Arsenal defender Kieran Gibbs backed off, Holt's shot caught the defender's boot and looped over Szczesny and into the net.

    Arsenal's afternoon took another turn for the worse in the 33rd whendefender Bacary Sagna pulled up with an injury and had to be replaced by Francis Coquelin.

    Wenger later confirmed that the French international had broken his leg and is out of next month's European Championship.

    The visitors felt they should have been awarded a penalty when Coquelin upended Hoolahan following another quick break down the right flank.

    It could have been 3-1 in first-half stoppage time but for a perfectly timed sliding challenge by Koscielny to block Holt's close-range effort.

    There was more purpose about Arsenal in the second half, but as the hour mark passed, Van Persie failed to beat Ruddy with a tame strike from 12 meters before Aaron Ramsey dragged his shot wide.

    The Wales midfielder was replaced in the 63rd minute by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as Wenger looked to inject some much-needed impetus into his side.

    It was Van Persie who made the breakthrough, though, in the 72nd when he perfectly timed his run to meet Alex Song's clever pass and sidefoot a volley across Ruddy.

    And Van Persie looked to have won it when he smashed in his 30th league goal. The captain's 80th-minute strike needed some luck as the ball deflected into his path, but he finished with accuracy.

    But Arsenal were caught out five minutes later by a ball over the top and Morison ran on to slot past Szczesny.

    There was still time for Ruddy to deny Van Persie with a fine close-range block before a clear push by Naughton in the back of the striker as he looked to tap in at the far post went unpunished.

    The decision could prove costly to Arsenal who now stand to lose out on Champions League competition.

    However, after taking only three points from four matches during this crucial stage, it is the players who are ultimately responsible.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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