A goal from substitute Danny Welbeck helped Arsenal to a narrow 1-0 victory over Norwich City as Arsene Wenger’s men took a big step towards securing Champions League qualification amid fan protests against the Frenchman.
It was Norwich who had the better of a quiet first half, but Welbeck netted just before the hour mark shortly after coming off the bench with what was the Gunners’ first shot on target.
Arsenal were relatively comfortable from that point on, though, and are now unbeaten in eight Premier League games as they move up to third, three points ahead of Manchester City and eight clear of West Ham and Manchester United.
City and United are in action against Southampton and Leicester City respectively on Sunday, before next week’s crucial clash between Arsenal and Manuel Pellegrini’s men at the Etihad Stadium.
On his 750th league game in charge of Arsenal, some fans in a divided home support held up banners protesting against Wenger in the 12th and 78th minutes – referencing the 12 years since their last title – even though the Frenchman said his critics were going “too far” prior to the match.
Norwich, who made five changes, kicked off having sunk to second bottom in the table after a win for relegation rivals Newcastle United and a draw for Sunderland earlier on Saturday and a third-straight defeat ensures they stay two points adrift of safety with only three games remaining.
The visitors had an early opportunity when Nathan Redmond’s low shot was crucially saved by the legs of Petr Cech.
Unchanged Arsenal did not produce a shot on target in the first half for the fourth time in their last nine home matches, with Olivier Giroud denied by a vital Russell Martin block and Mohamed Elneny’s deflected effort drifting wide.
Cech thwarted Redmond again as half-time approached, pushing away his stinging strike before the lively winger cut inside from the left and drilled his third shot of the half narrowly wide.
Arsenal captain Per Mertesacker limped off early in the second half, with Gabriel coming on shortly before Welbeck was introduced by Wenger in place of Alex Iwobi, with the decision to withdraw the Nigerian booed by the disgruntled home fans.
But the move proved to be inspired as Welbeck put Arsenal in front just 188 seconds after his arrival. Hector Bellerin’s cross was headed down by Giroud and the England forward swivelled to drive his finish into the bottom corner with the aid of a slight deflection off Sebastien Bassong.
Arsenal’s claims for handball in the penalty area against Gary O’Neil were ignored, while Gabriel made a crucial challenge to deny substitute Dieumerci Mbokani at the other end.
Alexis Sanchez shot straight at John Ruddy and the goalkeeper then made a super diving stop to keep out Elneny as Arsenal claimed a one-goal win at an unsettled Emirates Stadium that boosts their hopes of reaching Europe’s elite club competition once again.