Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 Arsenal 3

Despite what the scoreline might suggest, we felt that it wasn't one of Arsenal's best performances. We were disappointed because after we watched Arsenal commit themselves in the whole 90 minutes and put in an impressive performance against Manchester City, we expected a similar display this night. With two goals inside 11 minutes and a numerical advantage, we were looking forward to goals galore. One may say that Arsenal controlled the game, but at Las Mimosas bar, we didn't feel totally comfortable until Yossi Benayoun scored the third goal to seal the victory in the 69th minute as Wolves threatened our goal. If their finishes were more clinical and had it not been for Szczesny's two brilliant saves, we could have ended up surrendering a 2-0 lead. It was disappointing to see Arsenal taking their foot off the gas when they could have pushed further to score more goals.

However, the more important thing than the performance was the result. After the costly lessons learned from the defeat by QPR, there was no sign of complacency seen in Arsenal's performance. They started brightly and executed the game plan (i.e., getting an early goal) precisely. Three points put us firmly on course for a top-three finish, opening up the gap to Tottenham to five points.

There is a discrepancy in possession rates. BBC believes the Wolves/Arsenal possession split was 50:50, while Sky Sports thinks it was 28.1% against 71.9%. We feel that Sky Sports figures are more credible. According to Sky Sports, Arsenal's passes totalled 828, a whopping 90.1% of which were successfully completed. Perhaps based on these stats, most of the media seemed to have rated Arsenal's performance as solid.

There were some positives from this game which looked like one of Arsenal's routine wins. Arsenal claimed the fourth clean sheet in five games. As Koscielny started a two-match ban, Djourou came in in his place to form a central defensive partnership with Vermaelen, which worried us prior to the match. With another game left for Koscielny to serve his suspension for, a clean sheet was encouraging for our back-four.

RVP's goal drought ended after 444 minutes of the Premier League games, which was a relief, but without a goal from our goal-scoring machine, we have managed to win three games—not bad for a so-called one-man team. His first goal in five games also marked a goal against a 17th different opponent out of 19 Prem sides this season. Only three players, including our own Ian Wright, had achieved this remarkable feat before him. He could have established a new record if he had scored a goal against Manchester City on Sunday.

In-form Wigan awaits us in the next fixture. Some may say that it is a bad time to face them on the back of their defeat of Manchester United and their spirited performance against Chelsea. However, Man U's defeat is likely to serve as a warning for us. It is a good example to show that anything could happen in football and how important it is to keep producing a consistent performance till the end of the season. One slip-up can suddenly change the whole picture of the title race. The same thing can happen to the top-four finish battle. We need all our players to play at their potential in the next game.

If we beat Wigan on Monday night, we will be 8 point clear of Tottenham before they play their next Premier League game on Saturday 21 April or the gap could be as massive as 12 points if we beat Chelsea earlier on that day. It will put a huge pressure on the top-four finish rivals. But let's look at only one step ahead each time.

Player ratings

Szczezny: 8
Made two excellent saves. Especially, the one that denied Kevin Doyle's close-range header was out of this world. Wenger praised the young keeper for his alertness.

Sagna: 7
His crossing was not at its best this night, but a reliable display by our most consistant player.

Djourou: 7
A few clearances were dubious, but he did his job OK.

Vermaelen: 7

Santos: 6
Lost his mark a few times.

Ramsey: 6
Missed a few good goal-scoring chances.

Arteta: 8
Dominated the midfield.

Song: 8
Provided an assist for Benayoun by cutting the ball back, after latching onto RVP's pass.

Walcott: 8
He used his pace well and posed a threat to Wolves defenders all night. Earned a penalty and scored a goal.

Benayoun: 8
He was always in a dangerous position. A well-taken goal from the edge of the box.

van Persie: 8
It was an untypical penalty for him, who usually smashes the ball into the back of the net. It is nice to see him try something new. It was a very cool penalty. Played good one-twos with Walcott: one that led to the penalty and the other that set up Walcott's goal.


Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
76th-minute substitute for Walcott. Made little impact.

Jenkinson: 5
Replaced Sagna in the 84th minute. Jenkinson's involvement was somewhat expected as we had heard Sagna was doubful. We were saying that we didn't mind him before the match, but we weren't very impressed with how much space he allowed Wolves players to have in and around the box at times. Perhaps he needs more playing time.


Neil Swarbrick: 5
Apparently this was the young referee's 10th Premier League game and the first Arsenal match to take charge of (no wonder he didn't look familiar to us). His penalty decision was spot-on, but even for us, Arsenal fans, the sending-off of Bassong looked too harsh.

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