Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday February 13 2011
It was a weekend that you felt could be crucial in the title race. With the Manchester derby taking place at lunchtime, any sort of result would be laced with positives for Arsenal. Though a draw or a City win would have been preferable, at the very least there is more distance between ourselves and City now and we emerge as the second cartel of a two horse race as it stands at the moment. We did grimace somewhat as we witnessed Rooney`s masterpiece in the Tavern pre match, but it reaffirmed the fact that Barcelona was well and truly on the back burner. Any slip up here would have taken a wheel off the title bandwagon as it hurtles metronomically towards May. We walked to the ground amidst a torrent of hailstones to find the manager had selected the strongest side available to him. It was clear where his priorities lay.
Through the inclement weather, Arsenal began brightly, establishing a firm grip on the match from the outset. Wilshere set the tone with an early jinking run which took him past Henry and O`Hara until his progress was unfairly impeded. Prior to the foul, he managed to nudge the ball to Cesc in the area, who tucked the ball home but the Wolves defence had long since stopped in lieu of the whistle. Van Persie`s subsequent free kick was fired well over with the Wolves wall all of seven yards away. But van Persie was soon to find his range by firing Arsenal in front after 16 minutes, Cesc Fabregas collected a pass from Walcott, hit a rather hopeful cross in with his left foot. Van Persie had taken a promising position betwixt Stearman and Zubar and lent back before crashing a low, right foot volley through the hands of Wayne Hennessey. From there on, Wolves` afternoon did not get much easier. Van Persie whipped in a wicked corner to the far post which evaded Hennessey`s ailing leap, but Andrey Arshavin could not get proper purchase on his connection to divert the ball into the net.
Wayne Hennessey was setting the scene for a busy afternoon and an inspired performance when Wilshere`s beautiful looping pass found Arshavin, he drove into the box, holding off Zubar before tucking the ball back for Walcott, his close range shot was palmed away by Hennessey and Fabregas` follow up was serendipitously cleared from the line by the heels of Stearman as he scurried backwards. Wolves could not cope with the cavalry charge, with Fabregas and van Persie orchestrating and Walcott feeding off their creative elixir. Walcott tore away from the Wolves midfield and was cynically tripped by Zubar. The only reason I bring this up is because Zubar later committed a poor challenge on van Persie which should have led to a second booking without too much need for thought. Chris Foy did not even give a foul for the lunge from behind. A clever through pass from Song teed up van Persie, but Hennessey beat his effort away with his legs. 1-0 at half time did not even begin to reflect our dominance.
Within seconds of the second half, we were left to rue our profligacy. Wilshere danced past Richard Stearman as he advanced to the edge of the box, drew George Elokobi, which allowed him to put a chance on a plate for Theo Walcott, who rather rushed his shot and amazingly steered the ball wide with so much of the goal to aim at. Arshavin drove a long range effort inches wide soon after. But the Gunners didn`t have to wait very long for their second. And when it came it was a thing of beauty. Djourou calmly played the ball to Wilshere on the edge of his own area; Wilshere took one touch to flick it to Song, who immediately found Fabregas. The Catalonian hit a sumptuous first time ball, swivelling his body as he did so to place the ball into the stride of the onrushing Walcott. Walcott shifted the ball to van Persie in the area, who had time and space to take a shot before lashing the ball past Hennessey. It took just five touches to get from one penalty area to another without the ball leaving the grass once, it was a swift counter attacking goal that was once our hallmark but has become too rare nowadays with our propensity to be more ponderous. It could just as easily been Pires, Bergkamp and Henry playing those final killer touches.
It was only ever a matter of how many after that, though van Persie, Arshavin and Wilshere were given time to put their feet up on the bench. Walcott played a 1-2 with Chamakh, cut inside of Stearman, but could only strike straight at Hennessey. It took Wolves a full 89 minutes to register a shot, Fletcher pinged a ball to Zubar in the area with Arsenal minds on Barcelona, he cut the ball back for substitute Sylvain Ebanks Blake, but he could only guide the ball over the bar. In the end, a crucial three points to keep United in our sights as they entertain some more tough fixtures over the coming weeks. Arsenal had to shake off any scar tissue from the Newcastle match and they did so with a thorough, professional job. Arsene appears to know his first choice starting XI for the first time in some years and that chemistry is really bearing itself out. Wilshere and Song interchange positions at will, van Persie and Fabregas are the brains to Walcott`s Pinky- even if his decision making is still suspect at times. The back four have a cohesion not seen for some years now- largely because they have had the opportunity to string matches together. The performance was measured, controlled, creative and even Mick McCarthy was left to admit his side were "spanked." The only minor complaint has to be our profligacy at times, this should have been much more than 2-0 and Barcelona won`t be as generous defensively. However, we go into that game in fine fettle as we come into a defining period of our season.LD.
53.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 20.DJOUROU, 6.KOSCIELNY, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 19.WILSHERE (15.Denilson `77), 4.FABREGAS(c), 14.WALCOTT, 23.ARSHAVIN (52.Bendtner `71), 10.v.PERSIE (29.Chamakh `71). Unused: 1.Almunia, 18.Squillaci, 27.Eboue, 28.Gibbs.
Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA
Date:Sunday February 13 2011
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