Wolverhampton Wanderers (0) 0 Arsenal (1) 1
Molineux Stadium, Waterloo Road, Wolverhampton WV1 4QR
Thursday, 10th February 2022. Kick-off time: 7.45pm
(4-2-3-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Cédric Soares, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Gabriel Martinelli; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Arthur Okonkwo, Emile Smith-Rowe, Rob Holding, Nicolas Pépé, Nuno Tavares, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah, Zach Awe.
Scorers: Gabriel Magalhães (25 mins)
Red Cards: Gabriel Martinelli
Yellow Cards: Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka, Gabriel Magalhães
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 41%
Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistant Referees: Simon Bennett, Darren Cann
Fourth Official: Michael Sailsbury
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Lee Mason; AVAR Mark Scholes
Tonight’s match at Molineux is the boys’ first game for eighteen days, and our next one will be in nine days’ time; such is the plight of a team that has been unceremoniously ejected from all domestic cup competitions. However, in the meantime, the much-maligned January transfer window threw up its usual controversies. Here at Arsenal, all in all, one way or another, thirteen players left the club; eight went out on loan, four departed in the form of a “free” transfer, and one man was released. On the other side of the balance sheet, two players were incoming. Time will tell if the first month of 2022 was to be a pivotal one.
The home side kicked off tonight’s match, and within a couple of minutes we were awarded the first corner of the match, which unfortunately went nowhere. Wolves moved forward quickly when they won a loose ball but Nelson Semedo’s cross was cut out well and then Max Kilman stupidly fouled Gabriel Martinelli in a poor effort to stop our men counter-attacking. We had a close shave after eight minutes when Ruben Neves whipped in a cross from deep towards Leander Dendoncker; Thomas Partey tried to clear it, but his messy clearance ended up in the safe arms of Aaron Ramsdale, thankfully. Ben White was lucky not to receive a yellow card when he fouled Daniel Podence literally in front of referee Michael Oliver, who showed good refereeing when he had a word in our defender’s ear instead. Wolves were causing our defenders problems down the wings, which needed to be addressed, and the midfielders were having difficulty in imposing themselves on the game. After twenty-five minutes, we took the lead when Wolves made a complete a mess of clearing Gabriel Martinelli’s corner and Ben White headed it to Alexandre Lacazette who somehow bundled it into the path of Gabriel, who stabbed the ball home from close range. The goal appeared to wake us up and we started to challenge harder for fifty-fifty balls, and became more aware of home defenders. Thomas Partey, who has just returned from a ban, received a yellow card for a careless challenge on Francisco Trincao, and in turn Romain Saïss got his yellow card for an appalling challenge from behind on Martin Ødegaard, which left the Arsenal man on the floor and in obvious pain. Four minutes before the break, Nelson Semedo’s long-range shot flew past the left-hand post of Aaron Ramsdale, and a minute or so later, some brilliant play by Bukayo Saka out on the right saw him nutmegging Fernando Marçal, played a one-two with Martin Ødegaard and picked out Alexandre Lacazette but his first-time shot was saved by Jose Sa in the Wolves goal. During the three minutes’ injury time, Granti Xhaka was booked for a messy foul on Francisco Trincao, and in the resulting free-kick, Ruben Neves’ shot went way over Aaron Ramsdale’s bar, and after that incident, Michael Oliver blew his whistle for the half-time break, thankfully.
Arsenal kicked off proceedings for the second half, and almost immediately both sides threw themselves into the fray with strong tackles and fast play becoming the order of the day. We had a penalty shout turned down when Alexandre Lacazette went down in the Wolves penalty area, and then again when a Cedric Soares cross looked to hit a Wolves defender’s hand a minute or so later. It was then the home side’s turn to put us under pressure, and indeed they came close with a couple of good chances, which thankfully were cleared by our defenders. Gabriel Magalhães was booked for time wasting on the hour, and the game started to get a bit scrappy as it became evident that our defenders were extremely adept in frustrating the Wolves strikers. Chiquinho and Gabriel seemed to get involved in a good, strong battle near the dugouts and the Wolves man was judged to have fouled the Arsenal player. Martin Ødegaard was replaced by Emile Smith-Rowe twenty-two minutes before the end of the match. Shortly afterwards, Gabriel Martinelli was given a red card for two silly consecutive bookable offences within just seconds of each other. The home side then got the ball into our net, but it was cancelled out for offside thankfully, and then with only the goalkeeper to beat, Alexandre Lacazette put the ball wide of Jose Sa’s post. Mikel Arteta then replaced Bukayo Saka for Rob Holding in an effort to shut up shop, and almost immediately, Aaron Ramsdale made a match winning save from Francisco Trincao, who hit the ball from twenty yards. Down to ten men, our defending became desperate at times, although it has to be said that Emile Smith-Rowe got the ball deep in our half and made an inspiring run towards the Wolves goal, but he ran into nowhere, sadly. Alexandre Lacazette was replaced by Eddie Nketiah with ten minutes of the match remaining, and still the pressure on our goal continued, as time and time again we somehow managed to hold out under intolerable pressure. Then Raul Jimenez headed the ball back across our goal and Chiquinho’s effort at the far post was kept out on the line, which led to Daniel Podence’s effort that was miraculously tipped over the bar by Aaron Ramsdale. Sadly, we just did not have the numbers to attack the Wolves goal anymore. Emile Smith-Rowe played a long ball up but only Eddie Nketiah was around to try to get it, so unfortunately the ball came back into our half again. In the five minutes’ injury time, the home side continued the pressure, but despite some iffy moments, we held out for the three points.
After all that trauma and grief out there tonight, not only did we deserve our three points, but we are in fifth place in the Premiership table with two games in hand over the fourth place team, West Ham United. We dug in, we stuck together and we managed to hold out against intolerable pressure, which certainly makes the return match in a fortnight a possible feisty affair. Now the dark stuff. Apparently, Granit Xhaka is the first Arsenal midfielder to be booked in four consecutive Premier League appearances since Cesc Fabregas was booked for five matches in a row back in December 2007. With regards to Gabriel Martinelli’s red card, he did not receive a second yellow card for dissent, but he was booked for pushing a Wolves player as he was taking a throw-in. Play contiued and Gabriel Martinelli fouled Chiquinho just seconds later. He was then shown two yellow cards for two different fouls. Obviously he did not know he was getting booked for the first one when he was showed the second card, which is unfair to say the least. Anyway, we won under very difficult circumstances, which everybody at the club can be extremely thankful.
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: Brentford at the Emirates on Saturday, 19th February at 3.00pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. 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.