Result: Arsenal 1-2 Wolves
Competition: Premier League
Date: 29 November 2020
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney, Ceballos, Xhaka, Willock, Willian, Saka, Aubameyang
Subs: Runarsson, Cedric, Holding, Elneny, Nelson, Lacazette, Nketiah
Arsenal succumbed to a third successive home defeat in the Premier League as Wolves secured a 2-1 win courtesy of first half goals by Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence.
The Gunners had been quick to reply through Gabriel’s header but despite pressing hard in the second half we couldn’t take any of the half chances we created to find a leveller.
Lots of changes from Thursday night but only two from our last league game; Bukayo Saka, having missed the trip to Norway with a dead leg, replaced the suspended Nicolas Pepe and David Luiz came in for Rob Holding. As was the case at Elland Road a week ago, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was asked to lead the line meaning Alex Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah had to settle for places on the bench. Willian and Joe Willock provided support with Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos anchoring midfield.
Sunday nights at the Emirates have not been much fun in the last couple of months, so the hope was for a fast start to calm the nerves of a Gunners side who are very much out of form on the league front.
Any hopes of that were curtailed inside 6 minutes when David Luiz and Raul Jimenez suffered a sickening clash of heads as they rose to meet a Willian corner. The players frantically beckoned the medical teams onto the pitch as both players lay out cold on the turf.
After a couple of minutes, Luiz got back to his feet with his face covered in blood. He needed bandaging but was seemingly fine to continue. His Mexican opponent, who he was quick to check on, required lengthier attention and eventually had to be taken away on a stretcher. Fabio Silva came on in his place. The stoppage lasted more than eight minutes.
Understandably, a flatness descended on proceedings. The game was scrappy and devoid of chances for either side. Eventually, though, Wolves grew in confidence. Playing a back four for only the second time in Nuno Espirito Santo’s time at the club, they started to make good progress down the flanks. On 27 minutes, Traore attacked Tierney on the right, got to the byline and stood a teasing ball up into the six-yard box. Dendoncker met it with full power to crash a header against the bar – a lett off – but the rebound fell kindly to Pedro Neto who smashed home despite Gabriel’s desperate attempt at a block. (0-1)
Given our recent attacking form, you wouldn’t have backed us to respond quickly. But we did. A brilliant pass by Willock freed Tierney behind the Wolves defence to attack the box. His cross was inches away from reaching Aubameyang when Coady stuck out a foot to deflect the ball out of his reach. We went short from the resulting corner, Willian exchanging passes with Bellerin before curling in a great cross for Gabriel to head home. (1-1)
That should have been a platform for us to take a grip of the game. Instead, we became more and more passive. Repeatedly we’d work the ball out to the wings, only to play it back, back and back some more. It was drab and dreary and all too familiar.
In contrast, Wolves looked lively on the break. With players willing to run at defenders and midfielders keen to break into the box, they showed us how’s it done. On 42 minutes, Neto charged towards goal unchecked and fired off a left foot effort. It took a slight nick off Bellerin’s heels which made Leno’s life more difficult. The German did make a save but Podence collected the ball, clipped it over a lunging tackle by Gabriel and fired home clinically. (1-2)
We halfheartedly went in search of a second equaliser; David Luiz fired a terrible free-kick over the ball and Aubameyang, who barely touched the ball all 55 minutes of the half, tried a tame shot from an unlikely angle.
Wolves will have been annoyed that they didn’t extend their advantage. Troare, played in by Neto and Silva, fired into the side netting. Exasperated, Xhaka closed out proceedings hurling abuse at players in front of him for not being available for a pass. It was not pretty.
The medical team decided that David Luiz shouldn’t continue which meant Rob Holding came on at the break.
We created an early chance, Bellerin crossing into the box but Saka unable to convert on the volley. He probably should have gone with his head but instead he shinned it.
Things were very much on a knife-edge. At the other end, Gabriel produced a couple of decent bits of defending, including taking a shot to the face, but then had Arsenal hearts in mouths when he seemed to clip Traore in the box. Referee Michael Oliver felt the winger had dived and produced a yellow card. Surprisingly, VAR agreed.
In the build-up to the hour mark, Willian went over with a free-kick and Bellerin had to make a last ditch block to clear a Podence shot after his own sloppiness had put us on the back foot.
Holding went over with a header, Nelson replaced Willian and Bellerin got a booking as the clock continued to tick down.
We didn’t exactly have Wolves quivering in their boots but half chances started to come.
Aubameyang, who really looked out of sorts, stole a ball off keeper Rui Patricio and had a shot blocked and Nelson fired over the bar from a good position.
The pressure continued to mount as the visitors switched to a back three. Willock had a shot blocked for a corner and Aubameyang headed a Bellerin cross wide. Inbetween, Arteta threw caution to the wind by sending Lacazette on for Xhaka.
Even though we finally committed numbers forward, Wolves were relatively comfortable defending balls into the box. That was on the occasions where we actually got the ball into the box. Our set-piece delivery was largely atrocious.
At the final whistle, Arteta looked deep in thought. He needs to find answers and quick. His side sit in 14th in the table heading into the North London derby and any ambitions we might have of securing a top four place already seem fanciful.
Things are bad. They can’t keep getting worse.