Arsenal Spurn Fourth As Wolves Frustrate
Arsenal 1 – 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers
1 – 0 Gervinho (8)
1 – 1 Fletcher (38)
Even Stuart Atwell’s Christmas gift of a cheap sending off was not able to present Arsenal with the three points that would have seen them leapfrog Chelsea into fourth place. Having rebounded from the defeat at Eastlands with a late win at Villa Park, Christmas rested heavy on the shoulders of the players.
We can bemoan Wayne Hennessey’s performance and the failure of Stuart Atwell to award a penalty yet those are distractions, ignoring that Arsenal created enough chances to score three or four goals. That they did not is the real issue.
Arsène resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes, instead restoring Johan Djourou to right back with Koscielny reverting to the centre of defence. Tinkering in midfield and attack meant that the expected rest for Ramsey did not entirely materialise, Alex Song’s continued indiscretions on the pitch meant the Welshman had to play a twenty minute cameo. Rosicky replaced him at the start and Yossi Benayoun’s goal at Villa Park probably got him the nod over Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after Theo Walcott’s stomach injury rendered him unfit.
Wolves probed early on, Matt Jarvis’ wing play stretched the home defence but left a space that Arsenal exploited effectively. Benayoun’s perfectly weighted pass allowed Gervinho to calmly find the back of the net. Prior to the match, the question of who would score if Robin van Persie did not had dominated Arsenal’s world for too long. One at whom fingers point is Gervinho. Yesterday he provided the answer; would that some of his other colleagues had followed that example as Wolves sought to snuff out the Dutchman’s threat, and succeeded in doing so.
Arsenal turned the screw following the early goal but produced few meaningful chances. van Persie skewed wide on the slide, then he and Rosicky combined to provide Arteta with a chance that was ultimately spurned. The Dutchman then drew a fine save from Hennessey in the Wolves goal, from distance. Once more Arteta resisted the opportunity to put his name on the scoresheet, deftly finding the Wolves ‘keeper with a freekick.
With Arsenal in recent years, an uneasy creeps in the longer a single goal lead hangs against teams outside of the Premier League top four, as if there is an inevitability of a goal coming against the run of play. Once more, that inevitability became fact. A Wanderers corner was not properly cleared and Fletcher to head home. As like a balloon slowly deflating, Arsenal’s self-belief slowly and quietly seeped into the ether as the final ten minutes of the half played out.
For all of Arsenal’s energy at the start of the second half, there was a disjointed element to the performance. They needed something to bring it back, someone to do so. Stuart Atwell gave them the motivation, denying a penalty claim when the ball struck Berra in the area. Vermaelen was so incensed with the decision that his dissent earned him a booking, fortunate not to see red for a rash challenge soon after. Had the penalty been given, Wolves might have been aggrieved. I think that had the decision been given against Arsenal, I would have been.
A big performance was needed from the bench. Much of the talk beforehand had been of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain; this was not his afternoon. His manager did, after all, declare that 2012 would be his year. Instead, the maligned Andrey Arshavin was called upon for a mercurial performance culminating in a fierce drive that was as close as anyone could manage.
Yet the goal threat emerged from the usual source. van Persie’s free kick caused Hennessey more consternation than Arteta’s earlier effort before Mertesacker’s firm header produced another outstanding save. Rosicky found Ramsey’s promptings helpful, a rare Czech goal would have topped the afternoon but it was not to be as his shot past wide of the flailing Hennessey’s hands. Milijas saw red, more for the followthrough of his challenge than any misinterpretation of studs being raised.
It made little difference. van Persie had three or four half-chances, Koscielny, Vermaelen and even Chamakh went for goal to no avail. It was not a pointless performance but certainly frustrating.
A word on the referee. Atwell is rightly being criticised this morning. He is a career referee whose callowness in man-management is apparent. This is the danger for the FA. By all means promote youthful officials but they need to be ready. All that was apparent from yesterday is that he is consistently inconsistent. Milijas might well have been sent off by seven of ten officials but by the same token, Song and Vermaelen should have received second yellows. It is this inability to apply the Laws of the Game with regularity that infuriates. More than anything, it might allow us to sew Mr McCarthy‘s cheeks together and stop listening to that which he spouts.