After a January window that saw the team gutted and new new arrivals, Arsenal fans could be forgiven for a pessimistic outlook heading into the final stretch of the season.
While their rivals have added a player or two to their ranks, Arsenal have shifted so many that they now have the smallest squad in the Premier League.
Given the team’s relatively well-known injury record and a lack of reliable firepower upfront, especially in the wake of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s unceremonious departure, Arsenal entered their match against Wolves without a great deal of outside confidence of securing a result.
Takehiro Tomiyasu was the only notable absentee from the starting XI, with Cédric Soares filling in, while Bernd Leno was absent through COVID-19.
Arsenal started shakily, but it was to be expected away at such a tough ground. Wolves have made the place a fortress in recent months and not only do they rarely concede, they also do not allow many attempts on target.
It is a testament to how hard Arsenal had to work that they were able to muster 9 shots on the Wolves goal in the first half, a record high for a visiting team this season.
While Wolves failed to capitalise on one or two errors at the back from the away side, Arsenal took their best chance with both hands. A well-delivered corner from Gabriel Martinelli caused a mad scramble in the penalty area, but Alexandre Lacazette was able to turn his effort into the path of Gabriel Magalhães who was on hand to toe-poke it home.
It was a lucky break, but it was one that Arsenal were grateful for, especially when the referee’s whistle blew for half-time.
The second half allowed Arsenal a smidge more freedom with Bukayo Saka and Cédric Soares both starting to ask questions of Wolves’ backline, but the game was changed in an instance after referee Michael Oliver dismissed Gabriel Martinelli.
The ill-discipline of Mikel Arteta’s side has been questioned for a while now, but this felt a little different. Oliver booked Martinelli twice for 2 incidents and then sent him off. While technically within the laws of the game, Arsenal and Martinelli are perhaps right to decry the ethics behind not informing the player that he was already booked. Surely Martinelli would not have made the second foul, if he knew he was booked for the first?
Regardless, Arsenal were forced into changes, which brought Rob Holding on to sure up the defence.
From there, it was one-way traffic, Wolves threw everything they had at Arsenal, including the kitchen sink. It was reminiscent of Arsenal’s Carabao Cup semi-final 1st leg against Liverpool – they’d had to ride their luck then as well.
Arsenal defended with their lives, with Benjamin White, Gabriel Magalhães and Rob Holding producing spectacular defensive showings to keep Wolves out. While Wolves were somewhat predictable with their attacks and the Arsenal defence considered it to be nothing more than food and drink, it was nevertheless a relief for the players to hear the final whistle.
It was a very important 3 points for Mikel Arteta’s men, not only is it a win on the road, but it keeps their Champions League hopes alight, especially with Manchester United and Tottenham both dropping points this week.
The red card decision for Gabriel Martinelli will surely raise some eyebrows. Referee Michael Oliver, usually one of, if not the best referee in the Premier League will be at the centre of the controversy. It felt distinctly unfair on Arsenal that they were not granted the chance to withdraw a yellow-carded player or for said player to even be informed of it. While technically correct within the laws of the game, it still felt a harsh punishment all the same.
Defensively, Arsenal started off shaky but managed to ride the storm until the final whistle blew. While many questioned the signing of Benjamin White in the summer, he has formed a formidable duo with Gabriel Magalhães and the two defenders, along with Rob Holding and Aaron Ramsdale, were the key to Arsenal’s victory in the end.
Losing Martinelli is a big deal for Arsenal, unless they can have the decision overturned, ut it’s a small price to pay for 3 points and Arsenal will be grateful for anything positive that comes their way, especially as they now face a home game against Brentford and then the return fixture against Wolves.
It’s too soon to call whether or not Arsenal will sneak into the top 4, but if they grind results out as they did last night, there’s no reason that they couldn’t be serious contenders.
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
17.) Cédric Soares
4.) Benjamin White
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka
5.) Thomas Partey
7.) Bukayo Saka (Holding 71’)
8.) Martin Ødegaard (Smith Rowe 68’)
35.) Gabriel Martinelli 🔴
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (Nketiah 81’)
33.) Arthur Okonkwo
75.) Zach Awe
16.) Rob Holding
20.) Nuno Tavares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
10.) Emile Smith Rowe
19.) Nicolas Pépé
30.) Eddie Nketiah
Wolverhampton Wanderers team:
1.) José Sá
23.) Max Kilman
16.) Conor Coady (c) (Fábio Silva 81’)
27.) Romain Saïss
22.) Nélson Semedo
8.) Rúben Neves
32.) Leander Dendoncker
5.) Marçal (Aït-Nouri 63’)
11.) Francisco Trincão (Chiquinho 62’)
10.) Daniel Podence
9.) Raúl Jiménez
Wolverhampton Wanderers subs:
21.) John Ruddy
2.) Ki-Jana Hoever
3.) Rayan Aït-Nouri
39.) Luke Cundle
26.) Hwang-Hee Chan
17.) Fábio Silva