Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Arsenal 4
A domestic away game outside of London had begun to feel like a distant relic of some bygone age- like fixtures on Christmas Day, mudbath pitches and hobnail boots. But for the first time since the infamous away defeat at Manchester City, we were taking to the motorway for our first trip to Molineux in five and a half years. The away section at Molineux offers a half decent view, as we were positioned perfectly on the half way line of the Lower Tier. However, having all of the away fans spread out across the Steve Bull Stand Lower Tier does not lend itself to creating a good atmosphere. Singing always radiates best from behind the goal, with the noise starting back centre and radiating outwards. The Molineux does not give you the chance to do that with the noise taking several seconds to travel from one corner flag to the other- the end result being that it dissipates before it gets the opportunity to ferment.
The first real calling cards of winter were in the air, with a chilly autumnal breeze and floodlights elucidating the early evening mist, like ghosts dancing in the foggy West Midlands air. Mick McCarthy, in his typically endearing West Yorkshire bluster had promised his Wolves side would, 'give it a real go' against their free scoring visitors. His words were not hollow. As expected, the home side, roared on by a suitably enthused home crowd, put Arsenal under pressure in the early stages. Milijas swept in a left wing corner which Sylvain Ebanks Blake stopped to head just wide, with Gallas having lost his man. It was to be another set piece which would set visiting hearts a flutter, when Arshavin fouled Milijas on the left touchline. The Chilean again whipped in a wicked delivery, Christophe Berra misjudged his free header and ended up heading the ball away from goal. The correct flex of his neck sinews would have seen the virginity of the Arsenal goal under threat.
Perhaps an accidental turning point was to follow. Abou Diaby hobbled off injured and was replaced by the rested Alex Song. Diaby had not been playing badly by any stretch of the imagination, but Song bought more poise and balance to the midfield, with Ramsey playing more of a cultured Denilson style role and Song sitting and breaking up attacks with ease. The midfield looked more balanced and Wolves would pay the price soon after. Zubar needlessly fouled Eduardo over on Arsenal's left hand side, Fabregas whipped in a deceptive free kick which Jody Craddock had to stoop to head just wide of his own post. From our side of the ground, many thought Craddock had headed the ball into his own net, causing a brief flurry of erroneous celebration. The Wolves fans foolishly mocked, chanting in with exaggerated mockney acclaim, 'sit daaan, shu aap!' So when Cesc Fabregas swung in the resulting corner and Hennessy flapped at thin air, leaving Eduardo to pressure Zubar into putting through his own net, the Arsenal fans greeted the goal with a delightfully gloating, 'sit daaan shu aaap!' to their previously buoyant hosts. Perhaps a telling sign arrived shortly after the goal. Sagna was clearly unhappy with the lack of cover Arshavin was affording him and asked Fabregas to have a word with the cumbersome Russian. Fabregas seemed reluctant so Sagna gave Arshavin a mouthful himself. Cesc will have to be prepared to be a little unpopular if he is to be the complete captain, but it was notable that Arshavin's work rate improved markedly after receiving Sagna's approbrium. The value of communication laid bare. This Arsenal side hasn't always been able to do it. Let's hope that was a turning point.
A Gunners side with an opening goal in their arsenal is a different proposition and we relaxed and played the football of which we are capable. Wolves were guilty of chasing the game far too early, Song won the ball back from an over zealous attack, freeing van Persie as Wanderers had one defender back, but van Persie's attemepted through pass to Fabregas was slightly over cooked. McCarthy's men did not learn their lesson and when Dave Edwards was caught in possession again by Alex Song, he was able to free Ramsey into a two on one situation. Ramsey rleeased the ball to the far edge of the penalty area to Eduardo, the Crozilian steadied himself and attempted a gorgeous chip which was carried in via Jody Craddock's head. Having seen the replay from behind, I've the feeling Eduardo's chip might have gone in unassisted anyway, even so it was certainly on target and clearly his goal. The tee shirt message of his celebration, dedicating the goal to the recently troubled Sao Paolo slums, was indicative of the class and humility of the man.
The game became something of a training exercise thereafter. Whilst Arsenal have previous in letting games away from their grasp, Wolves never had the armory to chink the Gunners mettle. Sure enough, before the half time whistle could blow, a goal of training ground ease was registered. Castillo surrendered possession to Fabregas in the right back position, the young Colombian didn't bother to chase back, leaving Sagna to charge into the vacated slot on the right wing, Cesc curled a pass into Sagna's path and then carried on his locomotive run, Sagna demonstrated a massive improvement in his game with the cross to van Persie, the Dutchman showed typical elegance and class to touch the ball delicately into the stride of Fabregas' unchecked run and the little Spaniard showed composure to slot the ball under Hennessy to move ahead of van Persie as top goalscorer for Arsenal this season. Cesc started the move, he had the energy and composure to end it. Make no mistake, we're watching Europe's finest central midfield player at the moment.
The second half resembled a 'two touch' training drill, with Arsenal weaving their triangles, decorated with flicks and tricks and generally fertilised the eggs of sexy football all over the Molineux turf. Zubar cheaply surrendered the ball to Fabregas on the left, he nudged the ball forward to the open Arshavin, the Russian danced past Craddock before seeing his front post effort beaten away by Hennessy. From the resulting corner, Hennessey again flapped unconvincingly and palmed the ball to the edge of the area and Arshavin's left footed half volley into the bottom corner was made to look easier than it was. From there, Lord Lowe asked me, 'What now? 5-0? 6-0?' I glibly replied, '4-1.' Whilst Arsenal created further chances, as Nasri and Ramsey played a neat one two on the left and teed up van Persie, whose shot was blocked. Whilst Ramsey was also at the heart of a move which saw van Persie tee up Rosicky to fire over. But Wolves' consolation was predictable as the foot had long since been pressed firmly on the gas. Matt Jarvis' corner was floated into the danger area and Thomas Vermaelen lost Jody Craddock who powered home a goal that was a mere footnote on the evening.
We travelled home satisfied as Arsenal racked up yet another four goals and yet another simple victory. That our biggest groan of a week which has seen us win three games by three goals, has been the receipt of late consolation goals shows all as rosy in the Arsenal garden. (Though the Wolves fans that held up our journey home by smashing the window of our coach were worthy of a grumble). The poor defending from set pieces still has to be a worry (ironically, this has largely gone unreported due to Chelsea and Liverpool's deficiencies in the same area), but Amos wrote a good piece in the wake of the West Ham game demanding that the side have the confidence and fortitude to put that mistake behind them. Thsi team has reacted to its set backs thus far this season. I'll still wait until we are pulled back to 2-1 in a match before declaring that lesson learned, but the side have had the confidence in the last three games to make the conceding of consolation goals irrelevant by simply making sure we scored a third. The quality of our football was sublime at times and whilst it is tempting to dismiss the quality of the opposition, this time last year Arsenal had lost to Fulham, Hull City and Stoke City. Arsenal are simply bullying weaker teams into submission- as United have so fruitfully in the last two seasons. How we react to this international break, with difficult games away at Sunderland and home to Chelsea immediately on its tail, will be key in deciphering our season. Take four points out of those two games and I'll call us serious title challengers.LD.
TEAM: 1.ALMUNIA, 3.SAGNA, 10.GALLAS, 5.VERMAELEN, 28.GIBBS, 16.RAMSEY, 4.FABREGAS(c), 2.DIABY (17.Song '19), 23.ARSHAVIN (7.Rosicky '77), 9.EDUARDO (8.Nasri '71), 11.v.PERSIE. Unused: 6.Senderos, 18.Silvestre, 24.Mannone, 27.Eboue.
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