Arsenal 2-1 Wolves: Late, Late Drama
Final Result: Arsenal 2-1 Wolves (Pepe 82′, Sa OG 95′ | Hwang 10′)
Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): Ramsdale; Cedric (Nketiah 76′), White, Gabriel, Tierney (Taveres 90′); Partey, Xhaka; Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli (Pepe 71′); Lacazette
I expected an unchanged lineup from the Brentford game in my preview post, but a stomach bug prevented Emile Smith-Rowe from a starting berth, allowing Gabriel Martinelli to return to the starting XI in what would prove to be a pivotal encounter in the Champions League qualification race.
Arsenal and Wolves were in a rich vein of form, and Wolves are renowned for having one of the meanest defenses in the competition, so the Gunners had it all to do, when the opening goal arrived thanks to yet again another defensive blunder from Gabriel. The defender was under pressure from Raul Jimenez and sending the ball to Row Z was a plausible option, but he chose to pass the ball to Aaron Ramsdale without having any awareness of the Hwang Hee-Chan on the prowl.
The Korean forward received the ball on a platter, skinned the Arsenal goalie before sidefooting the ball from an acute angel to an unguarded net. A bad start almost became worse when Jimenez received the ball in between the center pairing of Gabriel and Ben White, but his usually exquisite finishing let him down on that occasion.
Wolves matched the Gunners pound for pound and it was always going to be an uphill task getting something from the game against a side known for protecting their leads. Arsenal kept probing but at the end of 45 minutes, the visitors still remained ahead and one imagined it was going to be one of those nights. Hwang almost got a brace when he crept in behind the defense and was one on one with Ramsdale, but the Arsenal goalie had the smallest of touches that guided the ball away for a corner.
The Gunners didn’t take their foot off the pedal in the second half and kept pressing but Jose Sa in the Wolves goal kept making important saves after saves. Martinelli was the first player to be yanked off with Pepe replacing him, causing the manager to switch tactics with Saka moving to the left to allow the Ivorian strut his stuff on the right. Up next was Cedric for Nketiah with the Gunners going for broke and one wondered if Wolves were eventually going to crack – and crack they did!
The equalizer arrived when Pepe showed off his amazing technique to receive a ball from Nketiah on the turn and slot it in with his left before Sa had any chance to close him down. Martin Odegaard dinked the ball over the defense to Nketiah’s path that wasted no time in providing a carefully-threaded cut back to Nicolas Pepe that had to calm the ball down on the turn before guiding it home.
The goal lifted the crowd at the Emirates as they spurred on the lads to push for a winner. Arsenal was on the ascendancy so a second goal was very possible, and the team’s cause was helped when the fourth official raised his board and six minutes were given.
The circumstances around the match winner, so late in the game, were very pulsating, as the Wolves goalie had just saved a goal bound shot from Saka. Pepe charged on the ball to protect it from going out as a corner, then combined with Odegaard and Lacazette, before prodding the ball to Lacazette’s path on the edge of the area. The Arsenal captain let it rip and the ball somewhat deflected off Romain Saiss’ feet and somehow bundled its way pass Sa in goal to make it 2-1, sending the Emirates into raptures.
The celebrations for the goal and the final whistle showed how badly everyone connected with the club wanted this. The manager was full of praise for his lads and stated that the match winning goal belonged to Lacazette in his mind, even though the statisticians have tagged it as a Jose Sa own goal.
The victory put Arsenal on 45 points, one behind Manchester United in fourth place with two games in hand. Yes, there is still a lot of football to be played between now and May, but you can just smell that Champions League aroma you want to taste it! There is no Premier League football for the Gunners this weekend, so Arteta and his men will have enough time to prepare for the home clash against Watford next weekend.
Till then, let’s just bask in the euphoria of what has been another well earned victory following some late, late drama.
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