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Van the man as Arsenal tame Wolves

Arsenal 2 Wolves 0

van Persie 16, 56

A Robin van Persie brace provided the cutting edge as Arsenal blunted Wolves‘ threat without undue difficulty at the Emirates. With Cesc Fàbregas and Jack Wilshere outstanding in midfield, this was the ideal response to the disappointment of last week’s abject second half in the 4-4 draw against Newcastle, and provided a welcome boost ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League encounter with Barcelona.

Arsène Wenger picked his strongest available XI, with the fit-again Alex Song replacing Abou Diaby, who is serving a three-match suspension after his red card last weekend.

Szczęsny

Sagna – Djourou – Koscielny – Gibbs

Song – Wilshere

Fàbregas

Walcott – van Persie – Arshavin

In the reverse fixture in November, Arsenal had won 2-0 courtesy of goals by Marouane Chamakh at either end of the game and a superb goalkeeping display by the now injured Lukasz Fabiański.

One-way traffic

Arsenal completely dominated a lively first half, carving Wolves open on a regular basis and ensuring goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey earned his corn. Robin van Persie was unsuccessful with a couple of early efforts, but it did not take long for the home team to break the deadlock.

Van Persie took his league tally for the season into double figures (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

The architect and scorer of the 16th-minute goal came as little surprise, although its construction was somewhat unusual. Cesc Fàbregas cut inside from the right and clipped in a low left-footed cross for van Persie. The Dutchman swivelled and connected with a sweet right-footed volley from 15 yards out which flashed past Hennessey’s left hand.

Four minutes later, Andrey Arshavin should have doubled the advantage. Hennessey made a rare error, coming for and totally missing a van Persie corner. The ball fell for the Russian who, apparently surprised the ball had reached him, screwed his volley from five yards wide with the goal at his mercy.

Wolves were willing enough to attack when the opportunity presented itself, but the flow of chances remained resolutely one-way. A brilliant 50-yard ball from Jack Wilshere allowed Arshavin to cut inside his defender but, instead of shooting, chose to pull the ball back for Theo Walcott, whose shot from ten yards was brilliantly parried one-handed by Hennessey. Following up, Fàbregas’s shot was cleared off the line by Richard Stearman. On the stroke of half-time, Hennessey once again had to be sharp, keeping out another van Persie effort with his legs.

An efficient second half

Things were no better for the visitors at the start of the second half. Within seconds of the restart, Wilshere embarked on a mazy run through the Wolves defence. He could have shot himself, but elected to square the ball for Walcott, who shot wastefully wide.

After making his first international start in midweek, Wilshere was playing quite superbly, moving the ball with speed and menace as well as putting in some telling tackles. Ahead of him in midfield, Fàbregas was also at his devastating best. The captain passed with purpose and regularly popped up in and around the Wolves box. On 55 minutes, another forward foray enabled him to tee up Arshavin, who shot wide on the half-volley from 25 yards.

Fàbregas played a pivotal role in both Arsenal goals (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

A minute later, however, Arsenal did score the decisive second goal. A Wolves attack broke down on the edge of the Arsenal box and, four one-touch passes and 12 seconds later, the ball was in the back of their net. Wilshere received the ball and laid it off to Song. The Cameroon midfielder slid it forward to Fàbregas, who swept an immediate 40-yard diagonal pass over the top for Walcott. He chased it down and measured a precisely-weighted ball for the advancing van Persie, who took one touch to tee it up before making no mistake from the edge of the box. It was a breathtaking counter-attack – as fine a team goal as we will see all season.

The goal was van Persie’s tenth of 2011 – the first time a Premier League player has scored this many in the first two months of a calendar year. It was also Walcott’s fourth assist of the season, all of which have been for the Dutchman.

With Wolves continuing to be unable to provide meaningful support for lone striker Kevin Doyle, the game was effectively over as a contest. With Barcelona in mind, Arsenal’s tempo understandably dropped. Nonetheless, both Fàbregas and Walcott squandered chances to pad the final margin of victory.

And despite a couple of spells of pressure in the final ten minutes, Wolves never troubled Wojciech Szczęsny in goal. Unlike last week’s game at St James’s Park, Arsenal had no problem closing this one out.

Post-match reaction & analysis

Wenger was delighted with the team’s performance in his post-match press conference:

We were defensively solid and that was important after the four goals we conceded [at Newcastle]. We created many chances. The only regret is that maybe we didn’t score enough goals. Part of that is down to their goalkeeper. The keeper had an outstanding game.

And he was full of praise for Jack Wilshere:

I think he had a very good game. He defends well, attacks well, creates chances, had assists. At the moment I believe he will soon score, he looks very close. He has a hesitation sometimes to finish himself and chooses at the moment to give the ball, but I think when he will be a bit more confident he will score goals. He has not scored yet but Cesc was for a while like that.

This was exactly what the doctor ordered after last weekend’s incredible slip-up. Arsenal were dominant defensively, with Wolves failing to register a single effort on target. Song and Wilshere killed many of their attacks at source, and anything that did reach the back four was efficiently snuffed out.

Going forward, Wilshere and Fàbregas gave a masterclass in high tempo one and two-touch possession football. Walcott’s pace terrified the visitors throughout, and on another day he would have scored a couple of goals himself. On the other flank, Arshavin regularly attacked at pace and gave Ronald Zubar a torrid afternoon. He too could easily have grabbed some goals himself. Van Persie’s rich vein of scoring form shows little sign of abating – both goals here were fine finishes, in particular the first one with his ‘chocolate leg’.

Next up, of course, is the home leg of the round-of-16 tie against Lionel Messi, Xavi and co. Arsenal will need to perform at least this well to have a chance of progressing further in the Champions League, but this victory will certainly have helped their confidence ahead of Wednesday’s showdown.

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

3 Responses to Van the man as Arsenal tame Wolves

  1. The BearMan says:

    Who out there has borrowed my former title without permission (The armchair supporter). The Bear is Angry! Well done, it was a nice report which the Bear enjoyed reading. Keep up the good work.

    The lads played like champions in the making. The Van is making up for lost time and clocking up those goal rapidly.

    • Tim says:

      RvP’s goalscoring rate since his return from injury is quite something. You have to wonder how much better off we might have been these last few years if only he wasn’t injured every time an opponent says “boo” to him. I have to admit I never saw him as a main central striker, but I am delighted to have been proven wrong.

  2. Pingback: Arsenal huff and puff but can’t blow the big bad Wolves down « The armchair sports fan

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