I would start this out by saying “What a difference a few days make”, but on second thought…Let’s not get carried away. We still have lots of work to do, and the result certainly camouflages many of the deficiencies that were so glaring during the just-ended two-match skid. But winning conceals a great many problems, so this is one to enjoy, not only for the three points, morale-boosting win, but also a performance full of grit and character – aspects so woefully lacking during the last few performances.
I groaned inwardly when I saw the lineup. I had no complaints with Rosicky and Arshavin returning to the starting lineup – but I had hoped that Chamakh, whom I felt looked rather jaded during the last few matches, would get a breather. Two goals and three points later, I am glad he played tonight. Arsene’s selection of Chamakh served as a timely reminder that I am welcome to my opinion, but should not think I can pick a better lineup than Arsene. In his post-match comments, Arsene said that Chamakh had been sick all week, so there seems to have been an additional contributing factor to his recent off-color performances. Chamakh wasn’t necessarily at the center of everything, but he put in another good shift, worked hard for the team, and converted the chances when we needed him to.
After drawing a blank at home in the dismal Sunday effort versus Newcastle, we took only 39 seconds to get on the scoreboard. Rosicky combined with Song, who crossed for Chamakh to head our opening goal in. The intent and effort so clearly lacking on Sunday were present here, as we threatened to rack it up against Wolves. Hahnemann was equal to just about everything else we sent at his goal, making three fine saves from Arshavin, and another from Cesc. Wolves gradually asserted themselves, and began to push us back and create chances of their own – Doyle heading just over around the half-hour mark, and Fabianski making an excellent reaction save from a ball which deflected off Squillaci. We made it to the interval level and started the second half quickly – Cesc should have scored our second, but sent a poor shot wide after Rosicky had set him up.
For the first part of the second half, we created the better chances, and had several opportunities to extend our lead, but either Hahnemann, his defenders, of the woodwork (from Arshavin) denied us. As in the first half, Wolves gradually asserted themselves, and by the 70th minute, Arsenal was under significant pressure. Rosicky cleared one attempt off our line, Fabianski denied Doyle again, and then saved impressively from Berra in stoppage. From that save, Fabianski started the quick break, which led to Chamakh doubling our lead in the 94th minute. The whistle went shortly after, and we left the midland with two goals, a clean sheet, three points, and two points gained on Man United (who could only draw 0-0 at Eastlands).
I was particularly interested to see how Fabianski would react to Sunday’s defeat – and a goal which, while not completely his fault, he could have done better. The signs are encouraging – he was confident, commanding, alert and athletic. Both he and Hahnemann had solid games in goal, but this effort was exactly what we needed from Fabianski. This is not to say that he won’t have another bad game, but last season he followed one mistake with another, successively worse one. By the end of last season, I argued that he should have been sold for his own sake. Now he just completed an excellent “rebound” performance, and overcame another mental hurdle. Nobody can reasonably suggest that this side does not have flaws; I will, however, suggest that the goalkeeping position is currently not the biggest of our worries. That is not to say that things cannot change – of course they can – but Fabianski’s form has been generally excellent and he has a young, hungry Szczesny on the bench to remind him that he cannot afford to relax. Certainly the position is stronger than it was at the start of the season. Let’s see how far we can go with Fabianski in this form.
If I don’t mention this, rest assured someone else will. Cesc committed a nasty looking scissors tackle on Stephen Ward right near the touch-line, right near the end of regulation. It was a little reminiscent of Eboue’s tackle in the Birmingham City game, and if Cesc had been sent off, I would not have argued. We are going to have to be careful – we do not need him suspended, and we are losing the high ground on rough challenges. To his credit, Mick McCarthy did not make a big deal over it – viewing it as an honest tackle between two players going for the ball. Cesc visited the Wolves dressing room to apologize to Ward, and Arsene apologized directly to McCarthy, so it seems that we were genuinely contrite and nobody wanted to make an issue over it. Still, we need to be careful in how we tackle, and also how we (Arsene) beat the “bad tackles” drum. Hopefully, we are starting to develop a reputation that we will no longer be pushed around, as we have in recent seasons.
It’s a shame the same thing can’t be said about Wolves Carl Henry, who committed an over the top, studs up tackle straight into Arshavin’s shin. It really was a bad tackle and could easily have broken our little Russian’s leg. Arshavin made little fuss, Wenger made little fuss but there’s no talk of him popping into the away teams dressing room to appologise! Even the Sky Sports commentator said he could have seen a red card for that!
Wolves gave Man United two very difficult recent games at Old Trafford, had beaten Man City, and showed exactly why they are a handful for most sides. We won, but we certainly had to dig deep – Wolves were worth at least a point here, and on another day, they convert the chances they had. Arsene paid credit to them afterwards, and I think we all knew we had been in a battle. Their problem at the moment seems to be scoring goals, but they defend well as a team, work hard, and certainly create chances. Kevin Doyle is well-suited to the lone striker role, and he should start scoring soon.
Good luck for the rest of the season – barring the Emirates fixture, of course.
We come away with a much-needed win, and stay five points behind Chelsea. It does not get any easier, with an always-difficult trip to Goodison on Sunday. We can take heart from this evening’s performance: we had commitment, intent and purpose. We seemed to attack smarter, and everyone dug in deep and defended when needed. It was certainly not pretty, but contained plenty to suggest we have more about us than just the proverbial “soft underbelly”.
Here is hoping the team can keep this level of effort, purpose, commitment and maturity up. If we can do that, we will difficult for any opponent.
Written by Oliver