View From The North Bank: Wolves 0 Arsenal 3
Most of us would’ve expected three points from last night’s game but I doubt many would have expected it to be quite so comfortable against a team scrapping for their Premier League future. Admittedly, a sizeable chunk of that comfort was afforded us by an errant Sp*rs defender but still, it was a welcome relief to have the result sewn up so quickly.
Only nine minutes had gone when Theo Walcott linked well with Van Persie and raced clear of the Wolves defence. Walcott made life difficult for Bassong who could do little other than clumsily fell his opponent. It was a clear foul, whether intentional or not, and Theo was in an obvious goal scoring position. The rule book says he had to go so go he did.
Whilst it was hugely entertaining to see a Sp*rs defender contrive to make his parent club’s situation worse without even playing for them there is a part of me that thinks the punishment of red card, penalty and inevitable goal is overkill. Rules are rules and there was nothing else Mr. Swarbrick could’ve done, however there will always be a debate about whether the punishment fits the crime, until Fifa see sense.
There are occasions where a defender cynically hacks a marauding forward and stops a goal scoring opportunity, for that I say throw the book at them. Give a red card, a penalty, and a suspension. It’s cynical and it’s not what paying punters hand over their dosh to watch. This was not one of those situations. Bassong couldn’t avoid Walcott so a penalty was inevitable. Sending him off effectively killed the game. From an Arsenal perspective it was perfect as it allowed us to control the remaining 81 minutes without getting out of first gear. For the game as a whole, it’s a rule that needs reviewing.
The resultant penalty was despatched with the utmost composure and a dash of flair from our captain. In that situation it must be hard enough to compose yourself to strike cleanly in the desired direction, let alone to fool the keeper and add real style to the humble spot kick.
Theo wasn’t done after winning the penalty. Some neat interplay again dismantled a square Wolves defence and Walcott converted his chance with no fuss. Theo is playing with real confidence at the moment, it was hard for him against a congested City defence on Sunday but here he started brightly and asked questions that the struggling Wolves couldn’t answer. 2-0 and that was pretty much that.
From here on we had no need to release the handbrake and set about maintaining possession and frustrating our opponents. Wolves knew that they needed to win the game but also that at 2-0 down with 10 men any risks would be punished. Of course, it would’ve been nice to put them to the sword, to go on and get five, six, seven, but as much as Wolves wanted to win the game they also didn’t want to be totally humiliated. They defended well for the rest of the game and we never looked like wanting to stretch ourselves. With a 2-0 cushion I can certainly understand why.
Despite much of the rest of the game drifting by there were still chances. Wolves mustered a strong 10 minute spell in the second half, culminating in a Kevin Doyle header which drew an exceptional save from Wojciech Szczesny. It was encouraging that Szczesny pulled this save off. Not only because it was a stunning technical stop but also because it highlights the focus he has even in a relatively easy nigh’ts work. We’ve all seen keepers pull off save after save when under intense pressure but in some ways that’s easier than being asked to make one or two saves in a game where you have nothing else to do. The latter is a key trait of the top class keeper.
The finishing touch was added by Yossi Benayoun who retained his starting berth after another fine display on Sunday. Yossi is the consummate professional and a perfect squad player. The performances of Rosicky rightly drew lots of positive comment after the wins over Spurs and City but Yossi wasn’t far behind in terms of work rate. He is willing to come in for short spells in the side and then fulfil a back up role in the squad. If he is happy to do the same next season then I would be happy if we extended his stay in North London. I’m not sure we will though.
We now sit five points above them up the road and Newcastle, seven above Chelsea. The way we started last night would suggest there is a focus in the squad and a desire to complete the job now that the mammoth task of overhauling that hefty deficit has been achieved. Next up Wigan who have given a very impressive account of themselves in their last two games. An undeserved defeat at Chelsea and a win over the champions elect means that we will need another confident display to maintain our stranglehold on third place.
Keep the faith.