Sometimes you need a bit of luck and Arsenal were the recipients of two slices of good fortune to fire them into action at Molineux yesterday. Wolves had started strongly but two first-half own goals saw their early confidence evaporate and, from then on, the Gunners took firm control of the match.
The encounter was finished as a contest on the stroke of half time when a sweeping Arsenal move was capped with a sublime lay-off from Robin Van Persie into the path of Cesc Fabregas who calmly passed the ball into the net. It was a goal to light up any game and was a moment of genuine class in what turned out to be a relatively bloodless victory in tricky conditions. Andrei Arshavin made it 4-0 in the 65th minute and a late Wolves rally, coupled with some abysmal Arsenal defending, allowed the home side to pull back a consolation effort with a couple of minutes to go.
Once Arsenal got themselves into gear they entirely dominated proceedings and there were no slip-ups in the manner of the one at Upton Park last month. It was pleasing to see them put Wolves so comprehensively to the sword.
With the team on such a good run at the moment, it would seem a little picky to be criticising them but it was irritating that, yet again, they weren’t able to keep a clean sheet. The defending for the Wolves goal was the only real blot on the day but it did highlight the Gunners’ susceptibility at set-pieces. In a rare individual lapse of concentration, Tomas Vermaelen allowed Jody Craddock to get away from him and the Wolves man dispatched a thunderous header past Manuel Almunia.
As I have said in previous weeks, these sorts of mistakes can be forgiven when hat-fulls of goals are being netted at the other end but there will be days, particularly away from home, when keeping a clean sheet could make all the difference. Of the top three teams in the table, Arsenal have scored the most goals but they have conceded the most too. The negative part of that statement seems to come into sharp focus away from home where the Gunners have conceded nearly as many (10) as both Chelsea and Manchester United put together (12) and this is a statistic that the squad needs to improve upon when they return from the international break.
One thing that may well help matters is the rehabilitation of Manuel Almunia. The experiment with Vito Mannone - if it can be called an experiment - did not work and the Spaniard’s return could not come quick enough after the debacle at West Ham. In the three games he has played since then, he has made some confidence-boosting saves and his handling has looked assured. The position of goalkeeper does feel like less of a worry now he is back and there is a tangible sense of stability being restored at the back. That said, his presence cannot legislate for the sort of mistake that led to the Wolves goal. Some of the attacking football the team has produced so far this season has been breath-taking but there is no doubt that more clean sheets will be required if this team is going to still be in contention for the title come next May.
Despite the defensive concerns, the goals and attacking play that the team has produced over the past couple of months have been a joy to watch. There is a palpable sense that goals could come from anywhere at any time and it is great that they are being shared around the team. When this side gets into full flow, players inter-change positions seamlessly and their passing and off-the-ball movement has a fluency which is sometimes staggering to behold. In the past, they have been accused of over-elaboration and often making one pass too many. This season though, the scintillating approach play is being converted into goals and they are the division’s top-scorers by some margin. It really is a case of so far, so good and they have certainly outstripped the expectations of most pundits and even some of their own fans in the way that they have started the season.
Arsenal go into the upcoming international break in second place - five points behind Chelsea but with a game in hand - and it is fair to say that with the momentum the players have built up over the past month a break is the last thing anyone wants. Still, there is not much that can be done about that and, as always, we just have to hope that everyone comes back uninjured and ready to pick up where they left off up at Sunderland on 21st November.