Arsenal 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
I wrote after the Hull game that I would rather Arsenal wrapped things up nice and early, but if they were to win all of their remaining games with injury time goals, so be it. I stand by that position from one perspective, but writing this evening, I`m not sure my heart can take this level of punishment! It`s been a jam packed football week, after the thrills and spills of Arsenal v Barcelona; I spent my Friday evening watching Milwall play Brentford at the Den. The reason this match report is coming to you this evening is because we fly to Perpignan at lunchtime tomorrow, but the pre match focus lay more in Salford where Manchester United played Chelsea. It`s a bizarre sensation watching a football game and wanting a draw, there`s something very unnatural about it. But Chelsea took a deserved victory and the title now looks theirs to lose, though a tough run in for the lotto Chavs gives us a chance. But first our focus had to be with a Wolves side on an impressive run, whilst the spine of Arsenal`s team has been ripped out due to injury. Not literally ripped out you understand, but then don`t be surprised to read tomorrow that Vermaelen misses the rest of the season with a ripped put spine. Or something.
Arsenal began the game brightly and in Walcott they had an outlet that Wolves could not deal with in the opening stages. After five minutes, Walcott weaved his way in from the right and cut an intelligent ball back to Eduardo, who fired the ball straight at Hahnemann. Arsenal`s next promising attack came down their right when Walcott fed the overlapping Rosicky, who again cut the ball back but Eduardo could only scoop a difficult chance wide. Again Walcott was the creator in chief as the home side maintained their high tempo start, Walcott again receiving the ball on the right and this time feeding the overlapping Sagna inside the box but his low, powerful drive was beaten out by Hahnemann`s legs. Walcott again was centre stage before the 20minute mark when Sagna`s corner was headed out to the edge of the area and Walcott caught the clearance with a sweet first time volley on his left foot which Hahnemann did well to hold. If you require proof that Arsenal don`t practise corners, it`s the fact that Sagna did not know he was taking the corners until he realised nobody else would. We went into the match without designated set piece takers.
The Gunners were still asking all the questions of a well organised Wolves side, ten minutes before the break, another Walcott surge from the right saw him pull the ball back to Eduardo; he combined with Tomas Rosicky- a constant bright spark throughout- who back heeled to Denilson who dragged his shot wide. However, Arsenal went into the break goalless and needing to lift their tempo. A mixture of the energy sapped from the Wednesday night just passed and the minds focussed on the Tuesday night to come was evident in the Gunners play. With Arshavin and Fabregas missing, the link up between midfield and the forward line looked to be lacking despite an energetic display from Rosicky in the Cesc role. In the second half, Arsenal did not create much at all with Wolves looking even more dogged. Walcott was now being nullified by Okelobi, who simply sat deeper and denied space in behind, though a Walcott cross was headed into the air by Zubar, Eduardo showed great reflexes to spin and hit a volley wide in the area. Arsenal were dominating possession, but Wolves were sitting numbers on the edge of their area, squeezing Arsenal out centrally and trusting the fact that, when forced wide, no Arsenal player would denigrate themselves by, you know, trying to get on the end of a cross. It was no surprise to see Bendtner come on for the ineffective Eboue, whilst the peripheral figure of Eduardo was moved to the left hand side.
Tomas Rosicky broke through in the area to deliver a low shot which was expertly held by Hahnemann, but Arsenal were running low on inspiration despite the Czech`s best efforts. On 68 minutes, the away side were reduced to ten men when Karl Henry needlessly ploughed through the back of Tomas Rosicky in the centre circle when the Czech had his back to goal. A stupid tackle that was reckless and with excessive force, as the rules deem of a red card challenge. However, that did not make the Gunners` task any easier. In fact, it made it more difficult as Wolves decanted to the edge of their own area making space at a premium for Arsenal`s attack. Substitute Samir Nasri pulled a pass back from the right edge of the area which Tomas Rosicky thumped straight at Hahnemann, Rosicky would have been the most deserving player of a goal, that was for sure. But Rosicky`s most vital contribution came at the other end when Jarvis` corner was headed goal wards by Ronald Zubar only to see Rosicky clear off the line. Arsenal looked clean out of ideas and the away side looked worthy of a point. A Sagna corner was cleared to the edge of the box to Nasri, he played a perceptive slide rule pass to Walcott in the area he screwed a close range effort wide on 91 minutes. The game felt as though it was up.
The game crept into its fourth minute of injury time; heads were uniformly in Arsenal hands as the stadium seemed resigned to the title bid drawing to an anti climactic close. The ball was shifted to Walcott on the right who touched the ball back to Sagna. The French full back took a touch before tossing in the umpteenth cross of the afternoon, only this time Bendtner had goal side of Ronald Zubar and met the cross with a precise header into the bottom corner. The timeliest, most precious of goals and the stadium duly erupted; Arsenal had snatched a victory they really didn`t deserve. Sol Campbell`s celebration might just be the most brilliant expression of joy I`ve ever seen. They could have added a second when Nasri broke clear but fed Walcott on the right when Bendtner was clear; Walcott tucked the ball back to Denilson whose shot was blocked. The final whistle was greeted with mass relief. In truth, Wolves were good value for a point such was the tenacity and organisation of their defending, but Arsenal simply don`t give up, even when their performance is below average. We were perhaps fortunate to escape with this three points, but the title bid remains alive as a battered and bruised Arsenal linger on towards the finishing line, eyes swollen and bloodied, swinging wildly like a drunken street fighter, hoping to land the one killer blow. Somehow, they keep landing it too. LD.
1.ALMUNIA, 3.SAGNA, 31.CAMPBELL, 5.VERMAELEN, 18.SILVESTRE, 17.SONG (8.Nasri `71), 15.DENILSON, 7.ROSICKY, 14.WALCOTT, 27.EBOUE (52.Bendtner `64), 9.EDUARDO (12.Vela `79). Unused: 2.Diaby, 21.Fabianski, 22.Clichy, 37.Eastmond.