Wolves Review: Arsenal Widen The Gap
Premier League 2011-2012 / Game 33 / Molineux Stadium
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
Arsenal 3 (Van Persie 9 (p), Walcott 11, Benayoun 69)
Arsenal hardly broke a sweat in seeing off the challenge of bottom placed Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Molineux last evening, in the process opening up a five point gap to Spurs and Newcastle in the race for third.
It was a game of ten minutes. The first ten. A penalty for Arsenal converted by Robin van Persie (and how!), Bassong’s sending off and a quick second by Theo Walcott effectively meant the remaining 80 minutes became more a training ground routine than a Premier League match, although there were a few more incidents for both teams.
Arsenal made the anticipated defensive changes, Djourou for Koscielny and Santos for Gibbs. Rosicky also dropped to the bench in favour of Ramsey, who took his favoured place in the centre of midfield. The rest of the team remained unchanged from the City game.
Wolves started with a five man midfield and made personnel changes as well, Davis and Doyle starting in place of Ebanks-Blake and Fletcher.
The Gunners got off to an energetic start, lessons had been learnt from QPR. Although we dominated possession, there were no clear cut chances in the opening minutes. This changed in the 9th minute, with a Wolves clearance headed back by Sagna into Walcott’s path. The Englishman turned smartly with the ball, passed to Robin van Persie and continued his run into the box. Just as the Dutchman’s dinked pass was falling into Theo’s path, Bassong bundled him over. Penalty.
Neil Swarbrick further applied the letter of the law in sending the Cameroonian off, deemed to be the last man. From the resultant spot kick, Van Persie nonchalantly chipped the ball into the centre where Hennessey had been, the Wolves keeper having sprawled to his right anticipating a strike in the corner. The barren spell of four games without a goal certainly had not played on Captain Vantastic’s mind, this finish proof of that.
Before Wolves could say ‘ouch’, Arsenal had taken a two goal lead. Theo and Robin combined once again, this time Walcott running into the box with the ball and finishing ever so coolly in the right bottom corner. Game over.
Arsenal went off the boil after that, probably a combination of being comfortably ahead, fatigue from weekend exertions against City and Wolves sitting deeper. Although there was one good chance for Wolves when Berra, who had replaced Davis, had a goal bound header deflected for a corner. Apart from that, it was Arsenal passing the ball around without showing any real determination to run up the score.
The first half stats confirmed what we were seeing visually – 76% possession, 92% pass completion rate, four times as many completed pass (431) as Wolves (107).
The second half started with the hope that Arsenal may try to boost their goal difference. We did start brightly again, Ramsey missing another chance in the box after being put through by RvP. Arteta then squared for Van Persie a few minutes later, only for the captain to blaze over with his right foot.
At the other end, Wolves tried their best to get back into the game. A fantastic header by Doyle looked to be heading inside the far post but was brilliantly turned away to safety by a diving Szczesny.
It was the kind of chance that we would have conceded from last year, letting a team with ten men back into the game. Considering how little the Pole had to do before that, he required all his concentration to make that save. There was also another good parry in injury time, ensuring Arsenal kept a clean sheet. It was good work by Woijiech and we may still need more of his heroics before the season is over.
Eventually, Benayoun got Arsenal’s third with a wonderful right foot finish from the edge of the box. It was no less than the Israeli’s last two performances have deserved. And on current form, it will be difficult for Arsene to fit in Aaron Ramsey ahead of Benayoun.
The Welshman is certainly going through a bad patch of form. He did not have the best of games yesterday with a number of misplaced passes compounded by his inability to win many possession duels. While Aaron does get himself into good positions in and around the box, some times he’s too eager and snatches at the ball while at other times he dwells on it too long and the opportunity is lost. You feel he needs to bundle in one or two to get the confidence going again.
Overall, it was a walk in the park for Arsenal. Although we could have been more ‘professional’ and knocked in a few more, the team did the job required and ensured what could have been a tricky fixture was put to bed early on.
After a long time, Arsene used his car analogy in the post-match once again:
We started well and then had a situation where we could control the game. Did we push on or not? After that we played a bit with the handbrake on, they played deeper and defended like mad with a great spirit until the end of the game.
Playing with the handbrake on has not been an option for most of this season and it is good to see Arsenal once again in a position to dictate the game at their own pace.
My only concern from yesterday is that even at 3-0 up, Arsene chose to leave Robin van Persie on for the remainder of the match. I fully expected RvP to come off and one of Chamakh or Park to be given a run out with 15 minutes to go. Maybe it’s an indication of how far the Moroccan and South Korean are off the Premier League standard at the moment. Or simply that Robin is happy playing right now and Arsene wants to give him every opportunity to add to his burgeoning goal tally this season.
Still, in the eventuality that one of our back up strikers is required to come on in any of the remaining games, fans should not be unrealistic in expecting them to work miracles with the limited pitch time, especially when they are not played against the league’s 20th ranked team playing with ten men and trailing by three goals.
The win opens up the gap to Spuds and Magpies to five points. United surprisingly lost to Wigan last night, which means the title race is firmly back on. Just three days ago, it was firmly off, with United already making preparations for their victory parade. It just shows you that at this point in the season, it takes only a result or two for the picture to be completely inverted.
We have an incredible opportunity to open up a 11-point gap to Spurs before they play next. While we should take it one game at a time, the psychological effect of that GAP on our neighbours should be added motivation for Arsenal to put Wigan and Chelsea away.
That’s all for today. Until tomorrow.