With recent results starting to look ever more promising for Arsenal, it is not entirely unsurprising to see Arsenal fans walk with a spring in their step recently.
Wins over Brighton & Hove Albion, West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United and Southampton and a draw against Manchester United, seem to have given the team a new lease on life, not least because of the continued rise of young Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka.
It therefore came as no surprise to see Arsenal taking their match against Wolves by the scruff of the neck right from the off. A fabulous through-ball from Thomas Partey to Bukayo Saka gave everyone an indication of how Arsenal intended to play, attacking with style. Though Saka’s effort rattled off the post, it was one of many danger signs for the home side.
Saka was one of Arsenal’s most lethal attackers and even had the ball in the back of the net, only for it to be ruled out due to VAR. From there, Arsenal continued to dominate Wolves.
Eventually, the deadlock was broken. Wonderful footwork from the resurged Nicolas Pépé saw him break into the Wolves box only to then lash a stunning shot into the far corner with his weaker right foot to give the away side the lead.
From there, it was one-way traffic until…disaster struck. Right on the stroke of half-time, David Luiz brought down Willian José in the penalty area and was immediately dismissed. It was a huge blow to the team, not least because they were now facing the prospect of heading into half-time all-square.
The penalty decision itself looked very harsh and Luiz’s dismissal was particularly unfair, given that the Brazilian had not even attempted to tackle the striker. It was therefore no surprise whatsoever to see Rúben Neves rifile home the equaliser as the half-time whistle blew.
The second-half saw Arsenal forced into a defensive change as Alexandre Lacazette was replaced by Gabriel Magalhães to cover Luiz’s absence. Arsenal struggled to gain much more of a foothold and, inevitably, Wolves took the lead, this time throigh an absolute screamer from João Moutinho. Five goalkeepers wouldn’t have kept it out, but it was pretty much the final nail in the coffin for Arsenal, who looked distinctly unlikely to score now.
However, if Arsenal fans thought that that was the end of the misery, they were sadly mistaken. A moment of madness from the usually reliable and heroic Bernd Leno saw the German goalkeeper leave his penalty area and attempt to head the ball out of play, only for the ball to hit his hand. An instant dismissal and Mikel Arteta saw his team go down to nine men and was forced into the substitution of Thomas Partey being withdrawn for Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson.
Thankfully, the final whistle blew without Arsenal conceding anymore, but with a sour taste in the mouth.
It was a particularly frustrating result to take for Arsenal fans. The first-half had been a display of rich attacking football, with intricate passing play, players playing with full confidence and a team that looked capable of replicating a similar scoreline to Manchester United’s recent 9-0 hammering of Southampton. The first red card killed the momentum, the second killed the game.
The first red card still seems an insanely harsh decision, not least because no foul had been committed. Willian José seemed to have hit his own foot into David Luiz’s knee and was given a penalty for it. Though the penalty decision itself seemed a little harsh, it was at least understandable, however, the subsequent red card was distinctly unfair. It is therefore no surprise that Mikel Arteta and his staff will be appealing the decision.
The second red card was a moment of pure insanity from Leno. Its clear that the former Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper had not intended to use his hand or to commit any sort of foul, however, a mis-timed header in the pouring rain is always a dangerous combination and the goalkeeper paid the price for it.
However, the continued good form of Nicolas Pépé will certainly be a glimmer of hope with which to cling onto. The Ivorian winger was keen to do the defensive dirty-work as much as the attacking and though Pépé was substituted in the 61st minute, it was more down to Arsenal’s one-man disadvantage than anything else.
Despite the glimmers of hope in Pépé or Partey or Saka or Smith Rowe or even Rob Holding, Arsenal fans will likely want to try and forget this game as soon as possible and honestly, who can blame them?
1.) Bernd Leno 🔴
2.) Héctor Bellerín (c)
16.) Rob Holding
23.) David Luiz 🔴
17.) Cédric Soares
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey (Rúnarsson 74’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé (Aubameyang 61’)
7.) Bukayo Saka
32.) Emile Smith Rowe
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (Gabriel Magalhães 45’)
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
21.) Calum Chambers
25.) Mohamed Elneny
8.) Dani Ceballos
11.) Martin Ødegaard
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Wolverhampton Wanderers team:
11.) Rui Patricío
22.) Nélson Semedo
16.) Conor Coady (c)
15.) Wilfried Boly
49.) Max Kilman
8.) Rúben Neves (Dendoncker 74’)
28.) João Moutinho
37.) Adama Traoré
10.) Daniel Podence (Vitinha 62’)
7.) Pedro Neto
12.) Willian José (Fábio Silva 91’)
Wolverhampton Wanderers subs:
21.) John Ruddy
2.) Ki-Jana Hoever
42.) Lewis Richards
54.) Owen Otasowie
32.) Leander Dendoncker
18.) Morgan Gibbs-White
17.) Fábio Silva