Result: Wolves 0-1 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 10 February 2022
Arsenal: Ramsdale, Cedric, White, Gabriel, Tierney, Xhaka, Partey, Odegaard, Saka, Martinelli, Lacazette
Subs: Okonkwo, Awe, Holding, Tavares, Elneny, Lokonga, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Nketiah
Arsenal survived Gabriel Martinelli’s second half red card to hold onto a hard-fought 1-0 win at Wolves.
Centre-back Gabriel’s third goal of the season, scored on 25 minutes, proved enough to take the points but the Gunners had to show serious guts in the closing stages as Wolves attempted to take advantage of their man advantage.
Victory, our first of 2022, sees the Gunners climb up to fifth in the table with two games in hand on West Ham United. The race for the Champions League is on.
After an 18 day break, the only absentees from our newly-streamlined first team squad were Takehiro Tomiyasu and Bernd Leno. The former missed out with the calf issue that has been plaguing him since the back end of last year while the latter tested positive for Covid. Cedric was given the nod at right-back alongside Ben White, Gabriel and Kieran Tierney, while Arthur Okonkwo took up Leno’s place on the bench. The only other headscratcher for Mikel Arteta was whether to start Emile Smith Rowe ahead of either Martin Odegaard or Gabi Martinelli. In the end, the England international started as a sub. Interestingly, 18-year-old defender Zach Awe was handed his first senior call-up; an opportunity made possible by the recent exits of Sead Kolasinac, Calum Chambers and Pablo Mari.
Given the tepid scoring records of both sides, this was never likely to be a ding-dong gung-ho affair so it was little surprise a cagey affair played out in the opening stages.
The Gunners certainly had more of the ball and worked better positions – a lot went down Martinelli’s left – but the home side didn’t look particularly uncomfortable at any stage.
As if to sum up how difficult we thought it might be to score from opening play we were treated to the spectacle of centre-backs White and Gabriel going venturing forward to challenge for a Tierney throw-in inside eight minutes. Despite wiping the ball down like Rory Delap, the Scot failed to fizz in a ball of note.
It took until the 22nd minute for the Gunners to create a chance to get the travelling fans going. Odegaard and Saka combined down the right and White, who’d gone forward for a free-kick 30-seconds earlier, had an effort blocked at close quarters.
That half-chance persuaded us to be more adventurous and within three minutes we grabbed the lead. It started with Cedric swinging in a fine cross from the right that evaded Lacazette’s head but ultimately led to a corner thanks to Martinelli’s mop-up job at the back post.
The Brazilian took responsibility for the subsequent set-piece and whipped in a dangerous ball that had Wolves at sixes and sevens. A headed half clearance was returned to the six-yard box by White and after Sa and Lacazette challenged for the ball, Gabriel was left unmarked to tap into an empty net. It was the defender’s third goal of the season. (1-0)
While not a dirty game, both sides indulged in tactical fouling with Partey and Sais the first to go into the book. Xhaka would join them later while Cedric was lucky to get away with a talking to from referee Martin Oliver.
By and large, we kept the home side at arm’s length. Trincao was tricky but wasteful and Semedo and Neves both went wide with long-range efforts, the latter from a free-kick.
At the other end, Lacazette had two half-chances; a near post flicked header from an Odegaard corner that was blocked by Coady and an attempt lashed down the throat of Sa after brilliant interplay by Odegaard and Saka.
We continued to make good ground down the right flank with Odegaard and Saka dovetailing with Cedric and Lacazette coming close for little one-twos.
For all our neat football, it was Wolves who looked more likely to grab the next goal. Podence had a couple of efforts and Dendoncker headed over from close range.
More bookings followed as the game again fell into a scrappy spell; Neves for a lunge on Lacazette and Gabriel for timewasting over the subsequent free-kick.
Bruno Lage changed things up after that with Ait-Nouri and Chiqinho being asked to unlock our stubborn defence. Arteta responded by sending on Smith Rowe for Odegaard before we started the process of pressing the self-destruct button.
It started with Gabriel Martinelli getting sent off for two bookable offences in the same action. The winger, frustrated not to have been given a foul, first body checked Podence on the touchline (it was more of a tap of the shoulder) and after Martin Oliver allowed play to go on, he chased back and then tripped Chiqinho. He thought he was going to get one yellow only for the referee to show him two. In isolation, both situations probably deserved a card, but together, inside 10 seconds, it was very odd from the officials.
When the free-kick was played into the box, Xhaka turned the ball into his own net. Before the Wolves fans had a chance to celebrate, the whistle went for an offside. It was a real let-off. As we let out a deep breath Saka was sacrificed and Holding was sent on to bolster the defence.
Despite that crazy five minutes, we should have doubled our lead. Lacazette was played clean through on goal but curled wide. It was a terrible miss, the type a recently departed striker used to feed off. Nketiah replaced him soon after and the Frenchman was then pictured in deep conversation with his manager on the touchline.
Would the miss be costly? That was the question. Having had a relatively quiet evening, Ramsdale came to the fore. The man in green flung himself through the air to deny Saiss and was a bundle of energy as he looked to claim crosses from left and right. He wasn’t always successful and we were very thankful for a desperate Holding clearance as the pressure mounted.
It was all Wolves. A yellow blur. Dendoncker twice went close with headers and Neves had an effort deflected over.
Ramsdale did absolutely everything he could to slow down the game but it was always going to come at a cost. Five minutes of stoppage time was not what we wanted to see but we kept on battling for every loose ball until Oliver finally blew the whistle.