LONDON ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12: Kevin Doyle of Wolves (L) tangles with Alex Song of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Wolverhampton Wanderers on February 12 2011 in London England. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
1 - 0 Robin van Persie 16'
2 - 0 Robin van Persie 56'
Arsenal smote Wolverhampton 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium today after Robin van Persie scored once in each half, sending Wolverhampton to the bottom of the Premier League and keeping the Gunners within shouting distance of Manchester United at the top of the table.
The story entering the match was how Arsenal would cope with the Newcastle draw of seven days ago, but they never really were in danger of a collapse today as the returns of Johan Djourou and Alex Song solidified things in Arsenal's own half. van Persie was active from the start, putting a free kick over the bar and slicing wide from a Song feed two minutes later. Andrei Arshavin found space on the left on ten minutes, but his square ball into the penalty area couldn't find an Arsenal shirt.
Wolves weren't completely out of things, though, as they managed to win a number of corner kicks throughout the match. Their first was punched clear strongly by Wojciech Szczesny, and two minutes later Arsenal had scored their first goal of the afternoon. Cesc Fabregas picked up the ball on the right, hesitated, switch to his left foot and curled in a short cross towards van Persie in the middle. The Dutchman met it in mid-air with his right boot and screamed in a low volley that the otherwise excellent Wayne Hennessey could only steer into the corner of his net. 1-0 to the Arsenal.
Arsenal then started really missing chances. Arshavin basically whiffed on a corner that fell to his left foot on the volley, Jack Wilshere failed to shoot when he should have, and Fabregas failed to get enough bend on a shot from 20 yards.
The Gunners really missed a chance in the 30th minute when Theo Walcott's shot from an Arshavin square was saved maginificently by Hennessey, the rebound falling to Wilshere who passed to Fabregas, whose low shot hit the back of a Wolves defender frantically running towards the goal line. It was madness, but it was still 1-0.
Arsenal countered a few minutes later, maginificent buildup play between van Persie and Walcott releasing Arshavin, who was wrongly flagged for offside. Fabregas tried to sidefoot an effort home, but Hennessey saved. Djourou executed two lovely plays in defense to hold Wolves at bay. van Persie nearly scored as halftime loomed, and Chris Foy blew his whistle to bring the first half to a close. Arsenal dominant but only leading by one.
The second half opened much as the first had ended, Walcott and Wilshere contriving to not score somehow. Ronald Zubar raked van Persie's knee with his studs and wasn't even whistled for a foul as van Persie lay on the turf injured. The Dutchman was able to continue after receiving attention.
Arsenal continued to press for a second, Arshavin shooting just wide, before they finally broke through with a Thor's lightning strike of a counterattack. Djourou laid the ball off in Arsenal's box to Wilshere, who give it to Song, who advanced it to Fabregas, who pinged it upfield to where Theo Walcott could run onto it on the right. van Persie moved up alongside him on the left, and Walcott didn't hesitate to send it across to the Dutchman, who made no mistake from 18 yards. The whole move took less than ten seconds, all one-touch passing, and Wolves were simply dumbstruck.
Fabregas and van Persie nearly scored in the next few minutes before Mick McCarthy made his first substitutions, Kevin Foley on for Jamie O'Hara and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake on for Nenad Milijas. Arsenal continued to attack before Wenger removed Arshavin and van Persie, perhaps in anticipation of Wednesday's match against Barcelona, in favor of Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh. Denilson joined soon thereafter, coming on for Wilshere.
Arsenal didn't sustain as much pressure as the match entered the 80th minute, and Wolves started to put some moves together and won a couple of corner kicks. Fabregas nearly released Walcott on the counter after the second, but the winger's run was mistimed a bit and he couldn't escape his marker. Ebanks-Blake nearly scored in the 90th minute, and Fabregas's placed shot was saved by Hennessey in the 91st. Time ran out without further incident, and Arsenal had remained within four points of Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table.
It was a good bounce-back from last weekend's fiasco as Arsenal simply outplayed Wolves. This was a match where they easily could have scored four or five, but as has been the story often this year, the finishing left something to be desired. Yet Mick McCarthy summed up the match afterwards thusly: "[Arsenal] were different class. They slapped us. We have to aspire to that performance".
Next up is Barcelona, and McCarthy's words ring true for the Gunners as the Catalans come to town...