Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 Arsenal 2
Another Wednesday night, another away fixture. My commitments following Arsenal mean that I never get to go on holiday anyway, so annual leave for such fixtures is never a problem. The sleep deprivation of getting back home in the wee small hours before rising and shining for work again soon after is slightly more of an encumbrance. Boarding the coach for the West Midlands with two lacklustre defeats swilling around our mouths like battery acid, everybody knew we weren`t in for the sort of walkover we achieved at Molineux last November. Not this time around. Pre match conversation was given a slightly more exotic flavour by the presence of Stateside Gooner Keith, who had flown over from Denver and managed to get a ticket for the game.
A pair of sub par displays left the tang of blood on Wolves` nostrils and Arsenal were going to need to stare the beast square in the eyes. A win, no matter how achieved, was imperative. After just 38 seconds, the Gunners were on their way to that much needed elixir. Tomas Rosicky drove forwards with the sort of impetus lacking in the Newcastle game, roaring into space before releasing Song on the right. Song looked up and picked out a peach of a cross to Marouane Chamakh who headed home the quickest goal of the Premiership season so far on the back post. I think I am correct in saying that may be our fastest goal since the Premiership began, I certainly cannot think of one quicker that we`ve scored. (Though I recall Eidur Gudjohnsen breaching us after 22 seconds at Stamford Bridge on the Invincibles year). Wolves were licking their wounds and Arsenal should have wielded the fatal blow. A ravenous looking Arshavin dispossessed Michael Mancienne in the final third of the pitch, leaving him one on one with Hahnemann, but the ball looked to stick slightly under Arshavin`s feet, by the time he could dig out a shot, Hahnemann had come out to narrow the angle and make the vital block. Arsenal were having the best of proceedings, but once again failed to find the killer touch, Chamakh and Arshavin combined on the edge of the area to set up Fabregas, whose shot was repelled by Hahnemann`s legs.
No team dominates an away Premiership fixture for 90 minutes and therefore, by not taking their chances, Arsenal risked the wrath of the response, which Wolves duly delivered. Firstly, Stephen Hunt swung in a right wing free kick which Kevin Doyle stopped to nod onto the roof of the net which Fabianski furiously back peddling. Fabianski was called into direct action minutes later when Nenad Milijas` cross was sliced high and towards his own goal by Squillaci- the only foot he put even slightly wrong all evening- and with Doyle lurking with menace on the back post, Fabianski was brave to beat the ball away for a corner. Half time arrived with a collective mopping of brows in the Steve Bull Stand Lower Tier, as Wolves were beginning to come back into the game. Though they created little of note, they had also effectively disrupted our passing game in the midfield and prevented us creating much more. We had what we expected, a high octane game in which we would need to give as good as we were sure to get.
Indeed, the sign that a long half was afoot came seconds into the second period when Wilshere unwittingly slipped in the area, allowing Milijas to bare down on goal, but he was prevented by an excellent block by Bacary Sagna. But the Gunners nearly drew blood once more in a pendulous contest when Richard Stearman`s clearance fell straight to Rosicky, he wasted to time in releasing Fabregas in the area and Cesc inexplicably steered the ball wide when he ought to have scored. He knew it too. Once again, the failure to kill teams off looked as though it would haunt us. Fortunately, the defence, expertly marshalled by Squillaci- who I don`t think lost a single contest all night- held firm. On the occasions they were breached, Fabianski proved an adequate barrier. He was in action again when he acrobatically tipped over a shot from Doyle from the edge of the area. From the resulting corner, Richard Stearman headed goalwards only for Tomas Rosicky to smuggle the ball off the line. Another set piece for the home side caused further angst for the visitors when Dominic Foley rose unmarked at the front post but glanced the ball just over.
But Arsenal were still looking dangerous too in a fraught and well fought contest. Andrey Arshavin received a pass on the left, powered his way past Foley in his own inimitable style and powered a low shot against the base of the post. The Gunners performed something of a role reversal when they caused problems attacking a set piece, a corner broke to Johan Djourou in the area, but his shot was somehow scrambled off the line by Stephen Ward. Kevin Doyle was next to cause consternation in a gun ho contest, he worked himself some space on the edge of the Arsenal area, space opened up but his unchallenged shot flew just wide when he should have at least worked Fabianski. Tempers were brimming to the surface, Fabregas had been snarling all match at a couple of challenges from Milijas, but he drew the ire of the home crowd when his late challenge saw Stephen Ward leave the pitch on a stretcher. Halsey demonstrated consistency, booking Cesc as he had Karl Henry for a tackle on Arshavin minutes earlier. "If that was us, you`d send him off" chanted an indignant home support. As well as tunefully chastising Fabregas as a "dirty Spanish bastard." The tackle was on the other side of the pitch to where the away fans were sat and I`ve yet to see any highlights, so I`m afraid it would be amiss of me to comment on the quality of the tackle. Needless to say we are under the microscope from those that can`t decide if Arsenal are a bunch of whingeing softies or the dirtiest team in creation.
I`m told Match of the Day stirred up their usual faux indignation without showing Henry`s tackle on Arshavin. That`s really quite pathetic when you consider that both managers seemed to be able to treat the incident like grown ups. The BBC in the UK is funded by license fees you are bound to pay on threat of imprisonment, as such they are dutibound to show impartiality in their programming. Yet they shamelessly continue to adopt such partisan stances. A ridiculously outdated, antiquated institution that should have been put out of its misery eons ago. The game was keenly contested, yet fair. Both sides showed aggression without overstepping the mark I felt. The Gunners were clinging on as the board signalled four minutes of stoppage time. A repeat of Sunderland lingered when Hunt swung in another corner, Song`s header only went as far as Christophe Berra on the edge of the area. His low shot through a cacophony of bodies looked bound for the bottom corner until Fabianski heroically thrust out a stiff arm, which both blocked the ball and kept it within his grasp. A match winning save. Lukasz then had the presence of mind to start a quick counter attack, allowing Fabregas to dink a ball over an absent Wolves defence for Chamakh, who gleefully clipped the ball past Hahnemann to seal the three points. Fabianski ran to the bench punching the air as he went. He realised the size of his contribution, both with save and assist. Whatever you think of Fabianski, like him, hate him, rate him or slate him, the man`s got balls. He came through a tough time in the team to string together some fine performances. He made an error against Newcastle and this game was the real proof in the pudding, his reaction last night was exemplary.
In the end, it was a very hard earned three points. Everyone knows Arsenal can blow most teams away on their day, but last night we earned the right to play, we matched a physical team for endeavour and actually defended well for a change. The addition of Squillaci has soothed the significant loss of Vermaelen, his experience and savvy has been a blessing for a backline that still occasionally suffers brain freeze. Squillaci is the defender that assesses the situation and does the right thing, if the ball needs to be cleared, he clears it. If he needs to put a head or a foot in, he does it. If he has time to make a pass, he passes. Simple, no nonsense stuff that our other defenders neglect too often. Squillaci has performed in the same manner that made Vermaelen a swift fan favourite this time last year, but supporters notice goals and Thomas` inclination for a good strike is the only thing that inflated Vermaelen`s reputation further than Squillaci`s currently. That`s a shame for someone who is principally meant to defend- an area we`re oft derided for by the same fans that seem oblivious to Squillaci`s form. But whilst last night`s gritty performance and result were pleasing, the players will need to show much of the same for the visit to Everton on Sunday. Too often we execute a result such as this and hear from the players how they`ve turned the corner and proved themselves, only for them to relax a few games later. We turned up, we clocked in, and we got the result. Now we must forget about it and do the same on Sunday.LD.
21.FABIANSKI, 3.SAGNA, 18.SQUILLACI, 20.DJOUROU, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 19.WILSHERE (15.Denilson `65), 4.FABREGAS (capt), 7.ROSICKY, 23.ARSHAVIN (8.Nasri 90+3), 29.CHAMAKH (52.Bendtner '90+3). Unused: 10.v.Persie, 14 Walcott, 27.Eboue, 53.Szczesny.