Wolverhampton Wanderers (1) 2 Arsenal (1) 1
Molineux Stadium, Waterloo Road, Wolverhampton WV1 4QR
Tuesday, 2nd February 2021. Kick-off time: 6.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, David Luiz, Cédric Soares; Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe, Nicolas Pépé; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Gabriel Magalhães, Dani Ceballos, Martin Ødegaard, Willian Borges da Silva, Alex Rúnarsson, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Calum Chambers, Mohamed Elneny, Gabriel Martinelli.
Scorers: Nicolas Pépé (32 mins)
Red Cards: David Luiz, Bernd Leno
Yellow Cards: Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 45%
Referee: Craig Pawson
Assistant Referees: Daniel Cook, Peter Kirkup
Fourth Official: David Coote
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Jonathan Moss; AVAR Tim Wood
Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions
Vitally important that we win this match at Wolverhampton this evening. Make no mistake about it, a victory here at Molineux means that we catapult ourselves into sixth place, one position above Tottenham Hotpsur, our “friends” and rivals four miles up the road. All to play for, then. Let’s go!
Within a minute of the start, our intentions were clear when Bukayo Saka was played on by Thomas Partey behind on the right. He raced away and on and into the box but his shot smacked against the crossbar from close quarters; a couple of minutes later, he also snapped a quick shot on the turn, in which Rui Patricio in the Wolves goal was fortunate enough to get down to his left and make a save. After eight minutes, Bukayo Saka did get the ball into the Wolves net, but it was disallowed for offside after a VAR check, but at this point in the match, Arsenal were running rampant. Thomas Partey was completely dominating the midfield area, and had complete freedom to spray balls here and there, much to the dismay of the home side’s defenders. Wolves had a couple of good chances that were well saved by Bernd Leno; we broke out and the subsequent attack saw Nicolas Pépé hit the Wolves crossbar from close range. Emile Smith-Rowe was absolutely devastating out there tonight, with superb movement on and off the ball, switching the play seemingly at will. Just after the half hour, Nicolas Pépé fought and shrugged off two Wolves defenders, and with his right foot (yes, his right foot) slotted the ball neatly into the net to give us the lead, quite deservedly. The goal appeared to wake the home side up, and put us under pressure, but time and time again we neutralised them, and broke out quite easily. With three minutes left before the break, Nicolas Pépé beat a man out on the left, went to the byeline and fired a pass across an empty goal, but there was nobody there to score what would be, an easy goal. Literally, on the stroke of half-time, fate took a hand. As Jose ran through and bore down on our goal, David Luiz only slightly touched him, but it was enough for him to go to ground. Penalty was given, David Luiz was sent off, Reuben Neves didn’t miss, and we went into the break one apiece, when we should have been by rights, well ahead.
Gabriel replaced Alexandre Lacazette at half-time, but as expected, the home side fancied their chances. And sure enough, four minutes into the second half, Joao Moutinho beat Bernd Leno with a 25-yard screamer to give the home side the lead. The match started to get scrappy and slip away from us. Nicolas Pépé was replaced by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang just after the hour and we started to look all at sea. In a crazy five minute period, Granit Xhaka got booked for a ridiculous tackle, and with eighteen minutes left, Bernd Leno was shown a red card by Craig Pawson when he ran out of his area to clear the ball, badly misjudged it, the ball hit his hand and he was sent off. Unbelievable. Almost immediately, Alex Rúnarsson replaced Thomas Partey in order to get some kind of stability at the back, and we faced the prospect of containment, when at one time in the first half, we were the only team on the pitch. The home side were just simply stroking the ball around at will, using their numerical advantage on the pitch to the maximum. At times like this, it always seems like forever until the final whistle blows, and sure enough, it looked truly awful now out there tonight. The remaining players did the best they could under the circumstances, but in essence they were truly up against it, and when the final whistle blew after five minutes’ injury time, it was merciful.
What a disaster. Up until David Luiz getting sent off, we were totally in the driving seat, and in the time it takes to blink an eye, everything unravelled and started to tumble down like a house of cards. On a filthy, wet and dismal night in the West Midlands, two controversial sending offs may just be a turning point for us. We will find out just how much a turning point it is when we play Aston Villa on Saturday lunchtime.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Aston Villa at Villa Park on Saturday, 6th February at 12.30pm (Premier League). Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.