Result: Wolves 2-1 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 2 February 2020
Venue: Molineux Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Luiz, Cedric, Partey, Xhaka, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Martinelli, Lacazette
Subs: Runarsson, Gabriel, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Willock, Odegaard, Willian, Nketiah
David Luiz and Bernd Leno were both sent off as Wolves came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1 at Molineux.
The Gunners took a deserved lead through Nicolas Pepe’s fine curled strike but what should have been a routine victory against a side thin on confidence quickly turned into a disaster.
First Luiz conceded a penalty on the stroke of half time after clipping the ankles of Willian Jose. To compound his misery he received a red card and Neves levelled from the spot.
The home side completed the turnaround on 48 minutes when Joao Moutinho hammered home from long range and any hopes of rescuing something from the game disappeared when Leno was sent for an early bath for handling outside his box.
Mikel Arteta made one change from the side that drew 0-0 with Manchester United at the weekend. Bukayo Saka came in for Gabriel Martinelli and took up his recent favoured position on the right side of the attack. Pepe switched to the left with Lacazette continuing to lead the line. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was a welcome sight on the bench after a short spell in quarantine.
Like at Southampton a week ago, the Gunners had a fine chance to open the scoring inside the opening minute. Partey played a fine long ball over the Wolves defence and Saka, darting behind his man, collected with his thigh before unleashing a rising shot that hit the post. The England international had a second opportunity three minutes later, this time testing Rui Patricio at his near post after decent work down the left by Cedric.
When a third opportunity fell his way on 9 minutes, he found the back of the net with a fine right-foot finish from the edge of the box. Unfortunately, Lacazette who’d teed him up, had strayed fractionally offside in the build-up and, after a VAR review, the goal was disallowed.
Kilman’s header over the bar saw Wolves threaten from a corner on 11 minutes, but that aside, it was an incredibly one-sided affair. At the 20 minute mark, we’d had 71% possession.
In the pouring rain, Semedo forced Leno to parry before Holding mopped up, before we again cranked up the pressure. Brilliant Arsenal play down the left saw Smith Rowe lay off to Pepe who crashed a shot goalwards that Patricio finger-tipped onto the bar. The shot was so fierce, the ball went out for a throw-in on the other side of the pitch.
On 32 minutes, our pressure finally paid dividends. Pepe won the ball in the Wolves half, played a one-two with Lacazette and then went toe-to-toe with Semedo. He left the former Barcelona man on his arse, flicked the ball, somewhat luckily through Neves’ legs and suddenly found himself with room to shoot. The Ivorian didn’t hesitate, curling a fine effort with his weaker right foot past Patricio. (1-0)
There were chances to double the lead. A lightning break after Leno claimed a Wolves corner ended with Pepe getting the ball stuck under his feet just as he was looking to shoot. Moments later, nobody gambled on a Smith Rowe cross that was rolled across the six-yard box.
Deep into two minutes of stoppage time. Disaster. A simple ball split our defence releasing Wolves new boy Willian Jose to charge at goal. Behind him David Luiz seemed to stumble and when he clipped his compatriot’s ankles referee Craig Pawson was only ever going to point to the spot. He was quick to flash a red card as well, which seemed harsh given our centre-back didn’t seem in control of his body. VAR stuck by the man in black and Luiz trudged off disconsolate. To rub salt in our wounds, Neves casually stuck the ball in the top corner. It was the last kick of the half. (1-1)
Gabriel was sent on to partner Rob Holding as Mikel Arteta sacrificed Alex Lacazette to reinforce the defence. Unsurprisingly, Wolves came racing out of the traps and not long after they took the lead.
There didn’t look to be much on when Moutinho picked up the ball 35-yards out but under little pressure, he let fly with a right-foot effort that flew past Leno and found the net off the inside of the post. It was an infuriatingly good finish. Suddenly we had a mountain to climb. (2-1)
A desperate challenge by Gabriel denied Neto a clear shot at goal as the home side looked to extend their advantage. Our main tactic was to try and hit back on the break. We looked a bit ragged when we lost the ball but going forward there was enough to give you the hope of an equaliser. All the more so when Aubameyang was sent on for Pepe.
Wolves did their best to make things niggly for 10 minutes or so before we shot ourselves in the foot again in truly bizarre fashion. Racing out of his box to mop up a long ball, Leno misjudged the bounce off the wet turf, realised he was in trouble and used his arms to punch the ball out of play. The Wolves players appealed straight away and Pawson went to his pocket. Another red card. Leno didn’t complain too much.
Arteta looked like someone had taken a cricket bat to his head. He couldn’t quite believe his eyes. With our final substitution of the night, he took off Partey and sent on Runarsson for his Premier League debut. To be fair to the Iceland international he made a couple of smart saves almost immediately.
The final 12 minutes were all about damage control. We sat deep in two banks of four to soak up pressure, however, rather than go for the jugular, Wolves slowed the game to a walking pace. They were happy with their lead and didn’t want to take any risks.
Aubameyang did have a half-chance to grab an unlikely leveller in the final minute but his shot on the turn was blocked at close-quarters by Boly.
After a very decent 46 minutes, arguably one of our slickest attacking performances of the season, the way we self-destructed was almost comical. We can only hope the players are able to compartmentalise the disappointment and move on quickly.