Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger had to endure calls for his departure as his side beat a Norwich team whose Premier League future looks increasingly bleak.
Fans protested inside and outside Emirates Stadium, voicing frustration at their team’s failure to mount a title challenge in recent years.
There was little for Arsenal to cheer until substitute Danny Welbeck put them ahead with a crisp half-volley.
Norwich are two points from safety with three games left.
They had chances – twice Petr Cech stopped Nathan Redmond from scoring. But for all their endeavour, Norwich left north London with nothing and with Newcastle beating Crystal Palace and Sunderland securing a draw against Stoke earlier in the day, their hopes of survival appear slim.
The Canaries are second from bottom and two points behind Newcastle, who moved out of the bottom three thanks to their win over Palace.
- Reaction to Saturday’s Premier League matches
- ‘Arsenal fans should try supporting Newcastle and they wouldn’t complain about Wenger’
Arsenal fans divided
Wenger and his players had been warned there would be a toxic atmosphere at the Emirates, and protests calling for the end of the Frenchman’s 20-year tenure began outside the stadium.
Fans from the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust, the Black Scarf Movement and Red Action handed out posters with the message ‘time for change’ and some fans held them up after 12 and 78 minutes – 12 being the number of years the club has gone without winning the league.
Various banners were held up, one saying ‘Wenger – 12 years of excuses, Ranieri – 9 months, champions’ in reference to Leicester’s march towards the league title.
Stoking the flames this week were Wenger’s pre-match comments – that fans had gone “overboard” with their criticisms, and that his team had played in “a very difficult climate” at home over recent months, contributing to their failure in the league.
In a divided stadium, there were those who supported their manager, singing “there’s only one Arsene Wenger” in response to the 12th-minute protest. They would point to the six FA Cups, three league titles and 18 consecutive seasons of Champions League football the club have enjoyed under Wenger.
Victory over Norwich moved them to third in the table, three points above Manchester City, and a step closer to securing another season in Europe’s elite cup competition.
Arsenal lacking inspiration
There was little to unite the factions as the first half played out like the majority of Arsenal’s games this year: plenty of possession, but little bite.
For the fourth time in their past nine home league games, Wenger’s men failed to conjure a shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.
At the other end of the pitch, and despite the visitors having just 30% of possession, Cech twice stopped Redmond from scoring, while a third effort from the striker before the break bounced just wide.
It was the 56th-minute introduction of Welbeck that turned the match in Arsenal’s favour. The striker gave his team much-needed spark and, within three minutes of coming on, he placed Olivier Giroud’s well-directed header into the bottom-left corner. Welbeck’s goal came from his team’s first shot on target.
Norwich on the brink
The Canaries have won at Old Trafford, drawn at Anfield and Upton Park and held Arsenal at home this season so there was hope before this match, especially against a team who have collected just 10 points from their past seven home league games.
Arsenal were often uncomfortable defending Norwich’s counter-attacks and had it not been for a well-timed Gabriel tackle on substitute Dieumerci Mbokani the visitors might have equalised.
But only relegated Aston Villa have lost more league games than Norwich this year and this defeat – their 11th in 15 league games – leaves them heading in the wrong direction.
What the managers said
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “We were warned about the protestors. You want to make the fans happy. I’m sorry if I don’t achieve it. I’m irritated and frustrated if I cannot keep people happy. I have respect for the club and gave so much for the club. I want to make people happy.
“Our job is to do the best. I think this season we hoped that we could win the league. It didn’t happen and that’s why people are frustrated. I can share that frustration. The aim is to come back and do what is needed to do it next year. The last three years the club has moved forward.”
Norwich boss Alex Neil: “Our gameplan worked really well. Petr Cech made three or four good saves. There was a five-minute spell when we were stretched and Arsenal managed to score in that spell.
“The last thing you can do down in the dogfight is feel sorry for yourselves. We didn’t get what we deserved. We need three displays like that in the next three games. If you start worrying about the maths and what other people are doing then it’ll drive you crazy.”
Two of Norwich’s remaining three league games are at Carrow Road, against Manchester United (7 May) and Watford (11 May). They desperately need to secure points at home if they are to go to Everton’s Goodison Park on the last day of the season with hopes of survival still alive.
The Gunners have two games to play – against fourth-placed Manchester City and relegated Villa.
The stats you need to know
- Danny Welbeck has equalled his Premier League goal tally from last season for Arsenal (4) but has played 10 games this season compared with 25 last campaign.
- Only Mesut Ozil (18) has more assists in the Premier League than Olivier Giroud (5) for Arsenal this season.
- No side has kept fewer clean sheets than Norwich in the Premier League this season (5, level with Villa).
- Arsenal are unbeaten in eight Premier League matches (W4 D4) with only West Ham (10) and Leicester (9) on longer unbeaten runs than the Gunners.
- Arsene Wenger’s side have kept three clean in a row in the Premier League for the first time since September 2015.