Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 Arsenal 3
For the last time this season, the flexi sheet was flecked with ink for a midweek away match. With Spurs and Chelsea failing to take maximum points from their latter Easter engagements, playing a Wolves team who haven`t won in nine seemed like an attractive proposition to capitalise and widen the gap to the chasing pack for 3rd place. In an attempt to both beat Midlands rush hour traffic and arrive in plenty of time for a few jars, Terry picked me up from work at around 1.45pm and we were on our way.
Despite some monsoon conditions, we made it into Wolverhampton unscathed shortly before 5pm and headed to the only pub in the vicinity that allows away fans. Disappointingly it was a Walkabout, meaning I had to stick to poorly kept Guinness to wet the whistle. More pleasingly, one of my party generously decided a round of twenty jaegers was in order to help along the vocal chords. The Walkabout was awash with thirsty Gooners pre match and we made a kind of bee line towards the stadium, formulating our own escort along the high street of Wolverhampton and towards the Molineux.
The sense of atmosphere and camaraderie did not really survive into the Steve Bull Stand. As I outlined in the bluffer`s guide the long oblong enclosure does not lend itself to creating atmosphere. Though a group of Black Country Gooners in front of us appeared keen to make their esoteric local pride everybody else`s business with a series of chants aimed at the home support that never had any intention of including fellow Gooners. If I wanted to watch a Black Country derby in the stands, I`d buy a ticket for Wolves v West Brom.
I`d had my doubts about this game, despite the predictions of a comfortable result. Blackburn, QPR and Bolton away have hardly been fruitful games for us and I just felt a team in a funk as badly as Wolves just have to get a positive result sooner or later. Happily, my fears were misplaced. After just nine minutes, Wolves` task was made nigh on impossible. Van Persie`s clip sent Walcott racing into the penalty area and as he shaped to shoot, he was tugged back by Sebastien Bassong. Penalty and red card, no doubt. Despite the protestations of the home fans in the Jack Harris Stand who, having seemingly settled on demotion to the Championship, chanted "Premier League, is full of sh*t."
It`s widely contended that red cards for professional fouls that yield penalties are harsh, as the denial of a goalscoring opportunity is essentially redressed by the penalty. But there has to be some kind of discouragement for cynical play. Bassong trudged off disconsolately. Van Persie stepped up to the spot, waited for Hennessey to move before dinking the ball cutely down the middle of the goal. He has now equalled a Premier League record by scoring against 17 different teams in this season`s campaign. Technically, he could break that record with an own goal before the season`s end.
Some around me attempted to mimic Sunday`s mock Poznan. Thankfully, it didn`t take. Jokes tend to be as funny when they are repeated ad nauseam. Those that did try to indulge ended up missing the goal that killed the game. Little more than 60 seconds after the game had restarted to the sound of home fans chanting "You don`t know what you`re doing" at Terry Connor as he replaced David Davis, the contest was slain. It was the same combination that opened Wolves up again. This time, a flick from van Persie sent Walcott racing away. This time his progress wasn`t impeded- legally or otherwise-and he slotted beneath Hennessey to make it 2-0 after just 11 minutes.
"How sh*t must you be? You`ve only scored two" was the cry from the Jack Harris Stand as Arsenal just played the half out. If we keep winning our games, goal difference is immaterial. We were just able to keep the ball- setting a season record for over 800 passes during the game- and tire Wolves out. To their credit, the home side did not roll over to have their bellies tickled. A Michael Kightly corner found Christophe Berra at the far post, but Vermaelen deflected his header wide. But Arsenal were able to simply play the remainder of the half out without the need to bust their collective balls.
Arsenal moved up a gear at the very beginning of the second half, Arteta`s through ball found the onrushing Ramsey, putting him through on goal. It`s symptomatic of his loss of confidence in front of goal just now that he hesitated, giving Surman time to get back and block his shot. Arteta then fed van Persie from the by line on the right hand side. The Dutchman found a corridor of space at the front post he has exploited so successfully this season, but uncharacteristically hacked his shot wide. Thereafter Arsenal lost their professionalism for ten minutes or so and Wolves looked keen to punish. Song totally failed to chase a loose ball back towards his own defence, fortunately Djourou`s well timed tackle on Doyle made it academic.
Then Santos ceded possession in the final third, ridiculously trying to showboat with a shoulder pass that went astray and found Doyle. It`s these lapses of respect that assure me third place is far from sealed for Arsenal. Wolves grasped the nettle and found themselves inspired by Arsenal`s drop in focus and should have scored when Jarvis carved out some space for himself on the left and sent a cross drifting towards the back post. It found Doyle whose header seemed destined for the far corner, only for Szczesny to pull off a gravity defying save. The Pole in the Goal bailed his team out. As did lady luck when Jarvis skimmed a header wide from Doyle`s cross from six yards. I still see signs that Arsenal think they`ve accomplished before they cross the finishing tape.
However, Wolves` resurgence was killed off on 69 minutes when van Persie nicked the ball in midfield. He found Song, who had created space on the left. The Cameroonian cut the ball back to Benayoun, who deceived Hennessey with his body shape. He shaped to open his body out and bend the ball into the far corner, only to swivel his hips at the last moment and drag it low into the bottom corner. The hapless Wolves keeper was left statuesque as a result. Now the Gunners really could kill the game off with a twenty minute training session. Milijas` drive from inside the area was again excellently saved by Szczesny. But it was the only real excitement the last twenty minutes provided.
In essence, it was a game that defied analysis but one we needed. We took the points, the game was wrapped up rather early on and at this stage, points on the board are all that matter. We`d no need to bust our guts and tire ourselves out looking to pummel Wolves. Similarly, they are a poor team on a poor run that saw themselves handicapped beyond repair after 11 minutes. Maybe I am being harsh, but I felt there was a 15 minute period in the second half where we lost respect for the game and for that to manifest itself, despite lessons we`ve been taught very recently, is a tad worrying. In the circumstances, maybe forgivable, but definitely not repeatable. But all in all, little to grumble about. By beating Wigan on Monday, we can probably afford to draw at home to Chelsea- which keeps them at arm`s length anyway. But Wigan`s result against Manchester United shows us there`s little to be taken for granted. LD.
13.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA (25.Jenkinson `84), 20.DJOUROU, 5.VERMAELEN, 11.A.SANTOS, 17.SONG, 8.ARTETA, 16.RAMSEY, 14.WALCOTT (15.Chamberlain `82), 30.BENAYOUN, 10.v.PERSIE ©. Unused: 7.Rosicky, 9.J-Y.Park, 18.Squillaci, 21.Fabianski, 29.Chamakh.
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