LONDON, April 30, (AFP): Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger faced supporter protests before Danny Welbeck’s goal secured a 1-0 home victory over Norwich City on Saturday that moved his side up to third place.
Welbeck scored three minutes after appearing as a 56th-minute substitute to move Arsenal eight points clear of fifth place in the Premier League and strengthen their bid to qualify for the Champions League.
Defeat at the Emirates Stadium left Norwich second from bottom, two points from safety, but with a game in hand on fourth-bottom Newcastle United.
Victory brought relief to Wenger, whose decision to introduce Welbeck changed the game, and his players, who were booed off following a scoreless first half that was marked by a display of dissent from some home fans.
The protest occurred in the 12th minute, signifying the 12 years since the club last won the league, but provoked a mixed reaction, and then a more muted response when it was repeated 12 minutes from time.
A number of posters were held up around the ground declaring that it was “TIME FOR A CHANGE”, but the display was met with boos from other fans and chants of “There’s only one Arsene Wenger!”
It confirmed that the club’s supporters are divided in their views about the manager’s future, but they are unanimous in sharing a sense of frustration over their club’s failure to challenge for the title.
That feeling was underlined by club captain Mikel Arteta, who admitted in his match programme notes that Arsenal had passed up their best chance in five years to claim the title.
Some of the reasons for that failure were evident during a disjointed first-half display when Wenger’s side struggled to find any momentum against a Norwich team who created the better chances despite enjoying only limited possession.
Wenger acknowledged before the match that the only way to win round his critics is by delivering results on the pitch, although he did mount a spirited defence of his record in the decade since the club moved to the Emirates, pointing out the financial constraints he was forced to work under.
He also illustrated his loyalty to the club by stating that he had committed himself to the club to satisfy a demand for stability from the banks that funded the development of the new stadium.
But the Frenchman needs to deliver results now and until the introduction of Welbeck, it appeared as though an uncomfortable afternoon was likely to get even worse for him.
Arsenal were forced to rely on the reactions of goalkeeper Petr Cech to deny Nathan Redmond as early as the sixth minute.
And while the visitors were forced to defend in numbers for long periods during the first half, they were rarely troubled by a one-dimensional home attack.
Alexis Sanchez offered occasional moments of threat, but the real danger came at the other end, with Cech again called on to save from Redmond, who also fired wide with another dangerous effort.
The boos that greeted the half-time whistle provided yet another reminder of the discontent among the home supporters. There were more signs of dissent at Wenger’s decision to withdraw Alex Iwobi and not Olivier Giroud, when Welbeck was introduced 11 minutes after the restart.
His decision was proved right, however, when Welbeck and Giroud combined for the winner, with the France international heading down Hector Bellerin’s cross for his team-mate to lash home.
Giroud immediately cupped his ear to the crowd, suggesting that he, too, felt vindicated.
Norwich remained positive and it took an excellent saving tackle from Gabriel — on for the injured Per Mertesacker — to prevent Dieumerci Mbokani connecting with Redmond’s low cross.
Arsenal, though, hung on and the risk of missing out on the Champions League receded, while Alex Neil’s Norwich have work to do if they are to avoid relegation.