Norwich City know the Championship is looming sharper into focus after another Premier League episode of tantalising promise but no real end product underpinned a 1-0 defeat at Arsenal.
The Canaries slipped to second last, two points behind Newcastle who hauled themselves out of the relegation zone, after failing to take any number of chances on the counter-attack against an Arsenal side who only stirred from their slumbers when Danny Welbeck was introduced from the bench.
The England international needed just three second-half minutes to lash a close range shot past John Ruddy to maintain the Gunners' push for a Champions League qualification spot and take the edge off muted fan protests directed at Arsene Wenger following another tame title surrender this season.
Norwich were punished for one momentary defensive lapse in concentration and a failure to display any ruthless intent in the opposition penalty area. That has been the story of a season which now looks set for a sour conclusion. Both Sunderland and Newcastle picked up more points this weekend to magnify a growing sense the fates are conspiring against Norwich. Alex Neil's side must in all probability take seven points from their remaining three league games now and hope for stumbles from their north-east relegation rivals.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK John Ruddy, 6 -- Largely a spectator for the first hour, then beaten by Danny Welbeck's half-volley. Excellent stop to push Mohamed Elneny's later goalbound shot over his bar.
DF Ivo Pinto, 6 -- Best outing in a fitful Norwich career so far in a first start since early March. Needed treatment after a crunching challenge from Laurent Koscielny but a decent attacking outlet and showed plenty of adventure.
DF Russell Martin, 6 -- Made one or two key first-half blocks as Norwich retreated to their own penalty area but switched off once with disastrous consequences to allow Olivier Giroud a free headed assist for Welbeck's match-winner.
DF Seb Bassong, 6 -- The Cameroon international was much more decisive than his weak display against Sunderland. His key block on Elneny in the first-half was excellent, but the centre-back allowed Welbeck too much space to lash the match-winner past John Ruddy.
DF Martin Olsson, 6 -- Harried in possession one too many times in the final stages. Olsson offered a counter-attacking outlet but his deliveries lacked real quality, apart from the early spot to pick out Nathan Redmond.
MF Jonny Howson, 6 -- The former Leeds man was a nice, compact foil alongside Gary O'Neil in front of the Norwich back four. Wasn't, however, able to get forward and offer the same threat as his last goalscoring visit to the Emirates.
MF Gary O'Neil, 6 -- Hit a wayward first-half effort from the edge of the area. His prodigious work-rate largely helped keep Arsenal's creative players in check.
MF Nathan Redmond, 7 -- Restored to the starting line up and keen to impress, Redmond tested Petr Cech twice at the far post with stinging strikes. Another shot on the turn flew wide -- City's best attacking moments carried Redmond's imprint.
MF Wes Hoolahan, 6 -- Spotted Redmond and then produced the perfect weight of pass in the closing stages of the first-half for one of Norwich's best chances, but Petr Cech was up to the challenge. Found plenty of pockets of space on the counter but lacked the supporting bodies in the penalty area.
MF Robbie Brady, 6 -- It was a new crew cut hair style but the same recent frustrations for the Republic of Ireland international. Eventually replaced in the second half after offering a limited attacking threat.
FW Cameron Jerome, 5 -- No doubting his work-rate or appetite to harass Arsenal's defenders outside the penalty area but again no end product inside it from last season's top-scorer.
FW Dieumerci Mbokani, 6 -- Added muscle and an aerial presence when subbed on. Mbokani's best chance at the near post went begging when Gabriel slid in to cut out Redmond's cross.
MF Steven Naismith, NR -- The January signing pushed up in support of Jerome and Mbokani. He won one flick to earn a free kick and took a painful whack from Gabriel for his troubles.
MF Matt Jarvis, NR -- Introduced in the final minute of normal time: A thankless task.