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Fabiański pretty in pink as Chamakh goals bookend Arsenal win

Wolves 0 Arsenal 2

Chamakh 1, 90

A brace of goals by Marouane Chamakh at either end of the game were enough to give Arsenal a 2-0 win at Molineux, but Wolves made them fight every inch of the way. Lukasz Fabiański, resplendent in a shocking pink jersey, atoned for his error last Sunday, putting in a man-of-the-match performance to secure three valuable points for the North London side.

After the defeat to Newcastle, Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri (who had picked up a minor knock) dropped to the bench, with Andrey Arshavin and Tomáš Rosický promoted to the starting line-up. With Thomas Vermaelen‘s prognosis still uncertain, Johan Djourou replaced the suspended Laurent Koscielny alongside Sébastien Squillaci in the centre of defence, as Arsenal lined up as follows:

Fabiański

Sagna – Squillaci – Djourou – Clichy

Fàbregas – Song – Wilshere

Rosický – Chamakh – Arshavin

The omens were bleak for Wolves, the only Premier League side without a clean sheet this season. They had never previously won a Premier League match in November (drawing two and losing six) and entered this game having lost their last ten encounters with Arsenal in all competitions.

Chamakh scored his seventh and eighth goals of the season (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Any prospect of a clean sheet was wiped out in the opening minute, as Arsenal got off to the best possible start. Rosický brought the ball forward from inside his own half and moved it out to Alex Song on the right wing. The Cameroon international delivered a pinpoint cross into the box, where Chamakh peeled off the back of his defender and planted a firm header beyond Marcus Hahnemann‘s right hand. At just 37 seconds, it was the fastest so far this season in the Premier League.

With the benefit of the opening goal, Arsenal dominated the first 25 minutes. Richard Stearman miscontrolled a back pass to allow Arshavin through on goal, but Hahnemann was quickly off his line to spare the defender’s blushes. Cesc Fàbregas shot straight at the Wolves keeper from 12 yards, and Rosický’s follow-up effort was blocked by Nenad Milijaš.

Wolves, however, are a resilient, battling side, and as Arsenal failed to capitalise on their opportunities, they worked their way back into the game as the half progressed. Kevin Doyle was first to a Stephen Hunt free kick, but his clever backward header just cleared the bar. And Fabiański scrambled smartly across his goal to claw away Squillaci’s miscued clearance from off Hunt’s head.

The second half began much as the first had finished, with Wolves in the ascendancy. In the first minute of the half, Jack Wilshere slipped in his own area, allowing Matt Jarvis to rifle the ball across the six-yard box where Bacary Sagna slid in just ahead of Milijaš and Hunt to clear the danger. Fabiański acrobatically tipped away Doyle’s swivelling shot from the edge of the box, and from the resultant corner Stearman’s effort was cleared off the line by Rosický.

It was nervy, edge-of-the-seat stuff, but Arsenal continued to create their own chances. Another defensive error allowed Fàbregas another shot on goal, but he dragged his effort wide. And Arshavin and Djourou both hit the foot of the post.

Fabiański put in a man-of-the-match performance to secure the win (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Towards the end Fàbregas went into Mark Halsey‘s book for a needless sliding challenge on Stephen Ward which saw the Wolves defender stretchered off with a gashed leg. The home fans bayed for a red card – it could and perhaps should have been – but an earlier studs-up challenge by Karl Henry on Arshavin went completely unpunished, while Milijaš also escaped sanction for a similarly robust tackle on Song.

Wolves hurled everyone forward as the game entered four minutes of injury time. Doyle’s pile-driver was stopped by a fully committed block from Song, and soon after Arsenal again had Fabiański to thank for preserving their lead as he got a strong left hand to Christophe Berra‘s effort. Rather than pat himself on the back, the Polish keeper quickly bowled the ball out to Rosický, who lifted it on to Fàbregas. The Spaniard chipped the ball through to Chamakh, who timed his run beyond the defence perfectly. Hahnemann managed to get a hand to his shot, but not enough to prevent the Moroccan from sealing the game. Chamakh’s goals were separated by 92 minutes and 26 seconds – the longest ever gap between two goals by the same player in the same Premier League game.

After the final whistle, Arsène Wenger praised his side’s battling display:

We were in the lead early on and the victory was so important for us that we focused tonight maybe more on defending and keeping the result. We couldn’t take our chances and if you look at the game we had many chances. I must say you have to give credit to Wolves because they are a good side. They are good defensively, they are good at winning the ball back and they always looked dangerous. They have a good mixture between long balls and build up play and are a side who will give problems to anyone in this league.

Although there were strong, committed performances throughout the team, he particularly praised Fabiański’s recovery after his error against Newcastle:

I think he did extremely well and made a fantastic save in the last minute of the game. He was of course disappointed with the goal we conceded against Newcastle on Sunday, but overall it’s good that not only he had a good game tonight but as well that he has the mental strength to respond quickly in a positive way.

With respect to Fàbregas’s rash challenge on Ward, he added:

I think it was accidental. That’s what Cesc told me – that he touched him but he wanted to play the ball. He went to the dressing room and apologised to the player. To get a red card you need to do on purpose a violent reckless challenge. The intention in the tackle is very important. You cannot just take the tackles out of the game.

Wolves manager Mick McCarthy was also magnanimous about the Fàbregas tackle on a night when his side were the more threatening for most of the game. As they had done at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford, they had caused one of the big teams all manner of problems, and could rightly consider themselves unfortunate to have finished as losers.

For Arsenal, this was in many ways a more pleasing performance than an easy victory would have been. The team stood up to be counted in a way they had not against Newcastle, and kept battling away even when up against the wall for the majority of the second half. It is results such as these – more so than the heady 6-0 wins of the summery early season – that will be critical to maintaining their title challenge into the New Year and beyond.

Chamakh led the line well, looking like a completely different player from the striker who had seemed jaded on Sunday. The midfield worked much more effectively than it had done against Newcastle, with Fàbregas continuing to make progress after his return from injury, and Rosický and Song both looking lively in support. And defensively, it was pleasing to see defenders and midfielders alike hurling themselves in the way of opponents’ shots, fighting to keep a clean sheet which too often this season has been discarded like an unnecessary trinket.

But the biggest plaudits must go to Fabiański, who put Sunday behind him to produce four or five outstanding saves to preserve the points. So often in the past, the Pole has been Arsenal’s match-loser. Here, he was very much the match-winner. Chapeau.

Arsenal will now travel to this weekend’s game at Everton with renewed confidence, where they can expect to face a battle every bit as tough as Wolves gave them here. With Chelsea facing a tricky away trip at Birmingham, a positive result might just see the current five-point gap shrink by Sunday evening.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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