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Posted: 28/12/2011
By Michael Strevens
Category: Match Reports

Arsenal 1-1 Wolves: No way past the Welsh Wall

Team: Szczesny, Djourou (Chamakh), Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Song, (Ramsey), Arteta, Rosicky, Gervinho, Benayoun (Arshavin), van Persie

The Short Report

We blew our chance to get back into the top four after a combination of heroic goalkeeping; dreadful refereeing and wasteful finishing meant we had to settle for a draw with Wolves.

The AL Report

Our chastening start to the season meant that we went through a period of not taking anything for granted, but there was an air of expectation around the stadium yesterday.

Results over the Christmas period had been kind to us and we had an extra day’s rest to take full advantage of them. A struggling Wolves side should have been the perfect opposition to help us move serenely back into the top four and push Robin van Persie closer to Alan Shearer’s record. Arsene Wenger knew differently though – his lavish pre-match praise of Mick McCarthy suggested that he was fully aware of the tough test that lay ahead.

The boss made four changes from the team that won at Villa Park. Johan Djourou returned at right-back and Tomas Rosicky came in to give Aaron Ramsey a much-needed rest. Yossi Benayoun was rewarded for last week’s matchwinning cameo with his first league start, replacing Theo Walcott who was left out of the squad completely due to illness. Alex Song returned to the team having served his one match suspension in place of Frimpong.

It looked so positive when we raced into the lead after just eight minutes with a brilliant counter-attack. Rosicky scooped up Laurent Koscielny’s clearance and showed great strength to hold the ball up and drive forward. He squared it to Benayoun on the halfway line, who picked out Gervinho with a delightful through ball. We have seen him fluff his lines all too often recently, but this time he calmly rounded the keeper and slotted home for his fourth league goal of the season.

Moments later, the Ivorian turned provider. Running onto Benayoun’s lofted pass, he scampered down the right wing, before cutting inside to tee up van Persie. For once, the skipper lacked composure in front of goal – rushing a sliding shot wide of the post when he had time to take a touch. Was the record playing on his mind?

Wayne Hennessy then produced the first of many excellent saves when he got down low to keep out van Persie’s drilled effort. It was an ominous sign of things to come. Despite creating enough chances in the first half, we didn’t kill off Wolves when we had the chance and we let them back into it with a sloppy goal.

Johan Djourou’s clearance from Nenad Mijlias’s corner fell straight to Stephen Hunt on the edge of the box. His deflected shot somehow found its way onto the head of Steven Fletcher, who diverted it agonisingly past Wojciech Szczesny. At the time, the crowd were furious that he wasn’t given offside, but replays showed that Alex Song failed to move up in time and played him on. It was a freakish goal in many ways, but yet another example of us failing to defend set-pieces.

The second half was as one-sided a contest as you’re ever likely to see. During the last half-hour we effectively laid siege to the Wolves goal, but were denied time and again by the heroics of Hennessy.

Gervinho won a free-kick in a dangerous position early on, which took an age to take thanks to the ineptitude of referee Stuart Atwell. After finally getting the wall to move back ten yards, he then stood in van Persie’s way as he was about to take it. Despite the distraction, he fired in a blistering shot that Hennessy met with an acrobatic tip over the bar. Mikel Arteta was feinting to take the kick originally, but after Atwell’s intervention, the keeper knew what was coming.

Andrey Arshavin and Ramsey came on as we continued to turn the screw. Per Mertesacker got on the end of a superb Rosicky cross, but his downward header was kept out by Hennessy, this time with his feet. Rosicky then fired wide after van Persie cut back Ramsey’s excellent cross.

The visitors were reduced to ten men after Mijlias fouled Arteta. It was a clumsy challenge that probably merited a booking, but Atwell flashed a red card and never completely regained control from that point onwards. He held up play time and again by getting embroiled in pointless conversations and taking ages to handle set-pieces.

Our efforts grew ever more frantic in the final ten minutes as Arshavin’s toe-poke from an improbable position fizzed just wide. Hennessy kept out van Persie yet again from another free-kick and then got down to save a powerful effort from a tight angle. As the clock ticked down, Thomas Vermaelen was through on goal, but the Wales number one conjured up another magnificent save.

Atwell added six minutes injury time, during which he booked Hennessy for time-wasting, but failed to add this on at the end. It signalled a frustrating finale to a second half in which we did everything but score. Hennessy may not reach such heights again, but you get the feeling that the referee has many new depths to plummet.

Man of the Match

Thomas Vermaelen didn’t have the greatest game at left-back at Villa Park, but looked much more comfortable this time. Rarely called upon to defend, he did an excellent job in supporting the attack and was unlucky not to grab the winner at the end. The hunger he shows when we’re chasing the game inspires those around him – he’ll be even more of an asset when is able to move back into his preferred role at the heart of the defence.

Player Focus

Robin van Persie would have had a hat-trick if it wasn’t for Hennessy, but I can’t help feeling the game hinged on one key moment in the first half when we were leading 1-0. He had a superb chance to double our lead but for once he made the wrong decision and hit it first time when a touch would have enabled him to shoot with more precision. He is far too professional to get distracted by records, but it will be a relief when this mini-millstone around his neck is removed after we play our final game of 2011 on Saturday.

Moan of the Match

Everything about Stuart Atwell’s refereeing suggested that he is totally out of his depth at this level. His general fussiness was irritating, but his lack of control during the second half was genuinely embarrassing. The angry chants of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ were a bit of an understatement.

The Final Word

As annoying as yesterday’s result was, it is hard to be too angry with the performance. Yes, our level dropped a bit in the first half, but after the break we peppered the Wolves goal and created enough chances to win several games. We ended the match having had 23 attempts on goal. The fact that 17 of them were on target is a tribute to Hennessy rather than an indictment of our finishing.

The worrying thing is that Spurs are pulling away from us and we now appear locked in a battle with Chelsea for fourth spot. There will be more twists and turns, but we can’t afford to slip up against QPR and Fulham.

We must act decisively as soon as the transfer window opens to get some good full-back cover and someone to share the goalscoring burden with van Persie. It is looking increasingly likely that Thierry Henry will come back, but I’d rather see a more a long-term solution as I fear that Thierry’s presence could be more of a distraction than an inspiration.

Next up: Two London derbies in three days await as we welcome QPR on New Year’s Eve before making the short trip over to Fulham on 2nd January.

Follow me on Twitter: @Mike_N5

Category

2011-12 | Match Reports

3 Comments

Darren Bowser wrote on 28/12/2011 14:00

Personally felt Thomas Rosicky was the man of the match, here's my editorial two pence on his performance: A rejuvenated Thomas Rosicky played with verve and purpose, mixing his game up well. The Czech has often be restricted to an hour of play limited by fitness but he not only played out the entire match but was a constant driving force throughout. His breakaway and clever reverse ball set up the counter attack that led to Arsenal's goal and on another day would have bagged a hat-trick of assists with better finishing from his colleagues, one sumptuous ball with the outside of the right boot really caught the eye with Per Mertesacker forcing a decent save with his header.

Darren Bowser wrote on 28/12/2011 14:07

Our lack of creative options from the bench was most worrying. If Wenger cannot trust Chamakh or Park against Wolves at home to give a tired Van Persie a rest then when can he? Chamakh will miss January and so surely should be contributing more than 5 minutes? I felt that change should have come much much sooner, right call but way too late given we were up against a 10 man Wolves outfit who don't travel well. Park's situation is baffling too, he essentially now has 1.5 of his 2 year stint remaining, what have we to show for his signing so far. Okay he needs adaption and won't feature too often ahead of Van Persie which does beg the question why on earth was he signed.

Darren Bowser wrote on 28/12/2011 14:25

Thought that the Benayoun selection may prove telling, he's deserved his chance with a string of positive cameo performances and some goals to boot. He's a player that can be relied upon for a shift, rarely gives possession away and acts as a true professional off the field never complaining if he's out of the action. I say telling in that it could spell the end of Arshavin's Arsenal career. We know that Zenit are keen to take back their former player and when Wenger recently spoke to the supporters he said it was always better to sell a player a year too early than too late, moving Arshavin on considering his wage, the inconsistency and frequency of telling moments dwindling rapidly you would have to say that moment has already arrived.

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