So, the great goal droughts are finally over.
Liverpool’s Andy Carroll (£35m, 9 games without a goal, 4 EPL goals so far this season) netted against Blackburn on Tuesday and Robin van Persie (£2.75m, 4 games without a goal, 27 EPL goals this season) scored against Wolves last night.
Not much to choose between them really.
Heh heh heh.
And so to our game at Molineux, which turned out to be doubly comfortable.
Firstly, the team strolled to victory, helped by two early goals and the sending off of Wolves defender Bassong. That’s right, the Bassong who just happens to be on loan from the Tottering Hotspuds. Heh heh heh again.
Secondly, it was not on live transmission here in North America, so I watched it hours later, already knowing the result, which made it very comfortable for me.
It’s a very different experience watching the full 90+ minutes when you know that we have won. There’s none of the agonising, the edge-of-seat anxiety, the frustration when passes go astray.
It’s like watching a video of yourself on an extremely scary fairground ride. You’re an observer, not a participant.
But this dispassionate viewpoint allows you to really concentrate on how each of our players performed and how the game panned out.
Arsène Wenger started with two enforced changes to the team that defeated the Manchester Oilers. Djourou was in for the suspended Koscielny and Santos replaced Gibbs, who was suffering from fatigue, having never played so many consecutive games without injury before.
But Le Boss also made one unenforced change, resting Tomas Rosicky, arguably our star player over the last two months, in favour of Aaron Ramsey. Yossi Benayoun deservedly kept his place in the team after a fine effort against Citeh.
On balance it was a cautious line-up, as if Arsene was expecting a tough battle.
Things didn’t pan out that way. As a contest it was over after 12 minutes. We started brightly, moving the ball well, and before too long Theo Walcott broke into the box and was brought down from behind by Bassong. A clear penalty and a straight red.
Robin van Persie, having not wanted to score for a few games, decided that on this occasion he would, and put the penalty away with an audacious chip down the middle of the goal after sending the Wolves ‘keeper Hennessey the wrong way.
One nil to the Arsenal. And a few minutes later it was two nil. Robin fed Theo who burst into the box and finished low and hard with real confidence for his ninth goal of this Premier League campaign.
After that we seemed to ease off the gas. We kept possession well but our cutting edge was a little blunted.
The commentators I was listening to kept moaning about our perceived lack of adventure, but haven’t we been guilty in the past of being too gung ho when we take a lead? You never know when you’re going to get Dowded, so I, at least, am pleased that we carried on with a steady possession game.
In addition, credit must go to the Wolves players who, although adrift at the foot of the table and on an appalling run of defeats, kept fighting throughout the game. Occasionally they were too physical, but this was partly the frustration borne of being two down with 10 men against a team who won’t let you have the ball (I believe we had 72% possession overall).
The Wolves fans were noisy for most of the match, but seem a pretty stupid lot. For a start they hounded Walcott all game long for having won the penalty. You’d think that after a few minutes word would have got round from people using their mobile phones that the decision was the right one, but apparently it didn’t.
Then they serenaded their own manager, the luckless Terry Connor, with a rendition of “you don’t know what you’re doing” for replacing a striker with a defender after going down to 10 men. It’s probably fair to say that that decision spared Wolves from a much heavier beating.
One noteworthy incident from the first half was when Robin van Persie was deliberately obstructed on the edge of the Wolves penalty area by Stearman. The ref missed it, but Alex Song bounded up to give Stearman a piece of his mind. I was pleased to see one of our senior players coming to the captain’s defence. I don’t think it would have happened last year.
The second half was more of the same (Arteta, Ramsey and Song controlling the game from midfield) apart from a period of about 15 minutes when Wolves had a bit of a go.
Their best moment was a header brilliantly saved by Szczesny, who was going the wrong way but managed to contort his body back in the opposite direction to make an important save to his right. At that point it would have been 1-2 and who knows how things might have panned out. Actually, on second thoughts, if they had scored I think we would have gone straight back up the other end and bagged a couple more. This year’s Arsenal has got heaps more bottle than last season’s model.
The Wolves revival soon fizzled out and we resumed total control, creating a hatful of excellent chances in the final 20 minutes. The only one that got tucked away was a fine shot by Benayoun from the edge of the area after a layback by Song. Benny shaped to do a curler to the far side of the goal. It completely fooled Hennessey and he was wrong-footed when Benny lashed it low and hard inside the near post. A quality goal from a player who has really endeared himself to the fans despite his limited game time.
There was time for a few more near misses by our front line and another great save by Szczesny before the final whistle went. Oxlade-Chamberlain got a run out as a sub for Walcott and looked as direct and dangerous as we have come to expect. And it was nice to see Carl Jenkinson get a few minutes in place of Sagna.
So we’re five points ahead of the Spuds and the Geordies and seven ahead of the Chavs.
The table is looking a lot sweeter than we could possibly have hoped for back in the early stages of the campaign.
However, with an in-form Wigan up next there’s no room for complacency. We need to make this third spot ours, not least for the stability it will give us as we make our summer transfer plans.
Szczesny: Had little to do, but when called upon he made two fantastic saves – a real testament to his powers of concentration. 8
Sagna: Defensively as reliable as ever and got forward well. A couple of excellent crosses and a few wayward ones. 7
Vermaelen: Very solid and commanding at the back. 7
Djourou: Not too much to do but what he did, he did well. 7
Santos: Generally did OK, but rode his luck a few times. He likes to get forward, but can be caught out at the back. However, he will need a run of games before we can really judge him. 6
Song: Another fine performance, including an assist for Benny’s goal. Some of his attempted “killer balls” came to nothing, but he was combative in midfield. 7.5
Arteta: A good game for the Spaniard, but I thought he was a fraction below par and was dispossessed a few times as well as uncharacteristically misplacing some passes. 7
Ramsey: He out Arteta’d Arteta last night. He was involved in everything – his passing stats must be close to perfect – and he made numerous progressive through balls that could have led to three assists on another night. In one five minute spell he set up Robin twice and Arteta once. He was desperately unlucky not to score when Hennessey made a great block from point blank range, but earlier seemed to fluff a good chance through lack of confidence in front of goal. Nevertheless, he was our best player on the night by quite some distance. 8.5 MotM.
Walcott: What can you say? He had a really poor game apart from the small fact of winning the match for us. He ripped Wolves to shreds in the first 15 minutes to put us two up. After that, pretty much everything he tried didn’t work. Perhaps the crowd getting on his back for the entire game affected his equilibrium. But it has to be a high mark because he did the stuff that really counts. 8
Benayoun: He’s becoming a popular figure among the faithful. He was less involved than Ramsey or Arteta, but was always a thorn in Wolves’ side and took his goal beautifully. 7
Van Persie: A stylish penalty got him back on the goal trail. He could have had another couple if the chances had fallen slightly better for him, but his hold-up play and linking of our attacking moves were outstanding. 7.5
Oxlade-Chamberlain: Always looks a threat. 7
Jenkinson: Brief cameo. Nice to see him back. N/A