I thought the match away at Wolves would be more nerve racking than Sunday’s Manchester City game. Despite our good recent run, I can never be sure which Arsenal team will turn up for each match, and with memories of the QPR defeat still fresh, there was a fear in the back of my mind that we’d end up being remembered as the team that Terry Connor’s Wolves actually managed to beat.
As it turned out, I haven’t been that relaxed when watching Arsenal for a while. To be 2-0 up inside 11 minutes adds a large degree of comfort to any match, but when the opposition are down to ten men, you immediately feel like victory should be assured. The team still had to do the job well though, and whilst we could have scored more goals, and could have absolutely demolished Wolves, Arsenal were professional in the approach and got an important three points.
Wolves played well considering they were a man down for the majority of the game. They certainly attacked us more than Manchester City did with 11 men, and they closed us down well. However there was always a sense that should Wolves threaten a way back into the game, we’d just step up our game and kill the match off. That’s effectively what Yossi Benayoun did; just moments after Wojciech Szczesny’s superb save.
The win means that we’re now five points ahead of Tottenham and Newcastle in the fight for third, with five games left. After the test we had at Udinese, and the subsequent fatigue that was a small contributing factor to the 8-2 at Old Trafford, we’re aware that finishing third and going straight into the Champions League group stage would make a big difference to our start to next season, and to how attractive we’d be to potential new signings.
As well as possible new players, it would be easier to persuade current players to sign new contracts if Champions League football was guaranteed. The most important of those is obviously Robin van Persie. His minor goal drought had the potential to become a bigger issue that it actually was, so it was a relief that he ended it on Wednesday. By the way van Persie took his penalty at Wolves, you wouldn’t have known that he hadn’t scored for a month. It was an impudent chip that could have gone wrong, but when you’ve had the season that Robin van Persie has, it was never going to result in anything other than a goal.
Even when he hasn’t been scoring, van Persie’s link up play has remained excellent, and he was influential in our fast start. His chip over the top for Theo Walcott to run onto to win the penalty was perfectly waited so as Sebastien Bassong was always going to struggle to prevent a shot on goal. The Dutchman then provided the assist for Walcott to double the lead. Once again, the weight of the pass meant Walcott didn’t have to break stride to go through on goal. The captain now has 27 goals, and 10 assists in the Premier League this season, proving that his all-round attacking game is the best in the division.
A player that we’re quick to criticise when he’s out of form is Theo Walcott. However he deserves praise at the moment as he has stepped up his game since the emergence of Oxlade-Chamberlain, and his finishing is improving. With five games left, Walcott has eight goals and eight assists. If he could get his goals tally to double figures, that would represent a good return for the season. It’s encouraging that he’s been able to contribute that number of goals and assists, when we know that there is a lot more to come from him. Wolves played into his hands by setting up with a high line early on in the game, and Walcott was less effective when Wolves dropped deeper towards their own penalty area. If he finishes the season strongly, it’ll be hard for whoever manages England in the European Championships to not start with Theo.
On the other side of the front three, Yossi Benayoun started on the left again. If I was Arsene Wenger, I’d work to sign him permanently now. I’d imagine we’ll sign other attacking players, but as I doubt Andrey Arshavin will return, keeping Benayoun would mean we’d have some reliable options in attacking positions. Benayoun has always put in good shifts every time he’s played this season, and his goal on Wednesday was superbly taken. In the long term, Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain are likely to occupy Benayoun’s position, but as a squad player, Yossi has been invaluable this season.
In midfield, Tomas Rosicky was understandably given a rest. Like Robin van Persie, he’s struggled with injury problems over many seasons, so the fact we’ve got a run of games out of him has been fantastic. With some more difficult games to go this season, it was a good chance to rotate slightly and give Aaron Ramsey a game in his preferred central midfield role. Some people seem very opinionated on Ramsey at the moment. He looked more comfortable in the middle on Wednesday, was lively and had a good game. Alongside Ramsey, Alex Song was dominating and Mikel Arteta was solid.
At the back, Johan Djourou deputised well for Laurent Koscielny, although he benefitted from Wolves only having one man up front for the majority of the game following the early red card. It was good to see Andre Santos make his first start since returning from injury, and there was the odd interesting moment from the Brazilian where what he was doing couldn’t really be described as defending, but he’s rusty and was always more concerned with attacking anyway.
As previously mentioned, Wojciech Szczesny made a superb save in the second half from Kevin Doyle. After some of his recent escapades, he should be light on his feet (watch this), however it was still a stunning save that highlighted his improvement this season. He’s got back-to-back clean sheets, and has cemented his place as our number one.
Overall, the match didn’t tell us that much about the team that we didn’t already know, because the match was never going to be a true contest after the early red card. It just reaffirmed that this team have grown, that the squad can be rotated safely in some positions, and for what feels like the first time in ages, we’re entering the final stretch of the season in good form. Third place is in our hands, and we’re only three points away from final points total from last season. If we can continue this strong finish, we might be able to avoid another long summer filled with rumours of our players wanting to leave.