Arsenal edges past Norwich in 1-0 win on day of fan protest
LONDON (AP) Substitute Danny Welbeck's second-half goal helped Arsenal to a 1-0 victory Saturday over relegation-threatened Norwich in the Premier League on a day of protests and division among the home fans.
Welbeck scored in the 59th minute after strike partner Olivier Giroud nodded down a cross for him in the center of the area. Up to that point, Norwich had the clearest chances in the match, with midfielder Nathan Redmond missing three first-half opportunities.
Several hundred Arsenal fans held up signs in protest in the 12th minute to signify anger and disappointment that it has been 12 years since the London club won a league title. The sign, in the red and white colors of the club, said ''Time for Change. Arsenal is Stale. Fresh Approach Needed.''
''It was a bit of a strange atmosphere,'' Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. ''But we have to live with that. I think the fans - some were protesting, yes - but a big majority didn't. The big majority was behind the team.''
Arsenal provisionally moved third, with 67 points, aiding its chances of securing a Champions League spot for next season. Norwich is in 19th place, with 31 points, with the defeat denting its hopes of remaining in the league next season.
Earlier this week, two Arsenal supporters groups had called on fans to protest, saying they were fed up with just playing for fourth place, or essentially a Champion League spot, each year. One of the groups, The Black Scarf Movement, said Wenger ''seems to be past his best'' and also criticized majority shareholder Stan Kroenke.
The protest seemed to be a minority though, with many fans booing the protesters and singing in support of Wenger. But the bitter division was evident when two fans got into an argument with a fellow supporter. It got so heated that stewards escorted two of them from the stadium.
Arsenal was top of the league in January, but a dip in form has seen the Gunners battling for a top-four spot - a situation they have seen themselves in over and over again in recent seasons.
Wenger said he had heard the fans singing in support of him, and thought any frustration came more out of ''love'' than enmity after the team failed to win a first league title since 2004 despite being in such a promising position at the start of the year.
''I think it's more disappointed love than real aggression,'' he said.
But the crowd started to turn on Wenger again, when he brought Welbeck on as a substitute for the inventive Alex Iwobi instead of Giroud, who was having a poor outing until then. The decision proved unpopular, with the home fans booing.
But Welbeck's shot into the left-hand corner, from Giroud's assist, came just three minutes after he came off the bench to keep Arsenal from further embarrassment.
Until then, Norwich looked like it might boost its survival hopes. The visitors had several chances in the first half, with Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech's left shin just keeping out Redmond's low shot in the 11th minute. Another couple of opportunities fell to Redmond before halftime, with the midfielder stinging Cech's palms with a volley, and moments later a fierce shot from him went just wide of the post.
Norwich nearly equalized in the 70th after Redmond made a blazing run down the right. He crossed to substitute Dieumerci Mbokani who was a fraction of a second from poking the ball in, but Arsenal defender Gabriel cleared the danger just in time. Gabriel had come on for captain Per Mertesacker, who appeared to pull his right hamstring in the second half.
Canaries' manager Alex Neil praised his team's performance, saying he's confident the team can avoid relegation in its last three matches.
''The players showed as much commitment and quality as we could ask for,'' he said.