Long-term Gooner Alan Alger gives his take on a miserable evening at the Emirates which saw Wolves beat Arsenal 2-1 on Sunday evening.
Arsenal went into this game with the drought of goals from open play statistics dominating previews, along with the milestone that it was a year to the day that Unai Emery departed the club.
The fluid 4-3-3 formation we saw at Elland Road last week perhaps a direct response to the criticism that we just weren’t firing in attack. The switch didn’t seem to be bearing fruit by the time Pepe saw red in Yorkshire, but I don’t think we can argue with Mikel Arteta’s decision to persevere for a home game that in normal circumstances we’d be expected to dictate.
The usual mass rotation after a Europa League midweek, and a decent performance in Norway, saw Lacazette return to the bench. The changes to the stalemate XI at Leeds coming on the wing (due to Pepe’s suspension) with a welcome return for Saka to the starting line-up and Rob Holding made way for David Luiz in a back four.
Our opponents seemingly struggled with the demands of European football last season and had some respite this campaign with no Europa League and an early EFL Cup exit back in September.
This was only their 11th game of the season while the Gunners were lining up for their 17th game since starting at Wembley in the Community Shield.
Arsenal losing aura
Wolves are certainly one of the better teams outside of the ‘Big Six’ and have achieved draws in this fixture twice since their return to the top-flight, but still the onus was surely going to be on Arsenal to be the dominant attacking force while the away side tried to hit us on the break.
Both sides struggling to find the net in the league with any kind of regularity in recent weeks.
We just don’t have the kind of aura that tempts teams to keep things on the back foot and grow into a game anymore, but it’s still a stark reality that even in home games there just isn’t a fear factor to playing us.
Thoughts with Raul Jimenez
Wolves fired up and pressuring us into conceding a corner in the first minute. We levelled the corner count in the fifth minute which resulted in a sickening clash of heads – deemed so graphic as to be unsuitable to show as a replay by Sky.
Although focused on the corner, David Luiz seemed to charge in quite recklessly, but found more of Raúl Jiménez’s head than the ball with his attempt. Those of us watching without crowd sounds hearing the awful noise that accompanied it echoing around an empty Emirates.
Wolves losing their first choice striker in the incident and replacing him with Fábio Silva who had played under an hour of Premier League football since arriving from Porto earlier in the year.
The ten minute delay acting as a reset to the match which kicked-off again with a Wolves free-kick.
I was of the opinion at the time that Luiz may have been lucky not to have been the subject of some kind of VAR led rebuke for the way he charged in and wiped Jiménez out.
Wolves go ahead
Our attempts at through balls in the early exchanges of the match were often overhit through a Wolves defence that were happy to stand firm in a line and watch the ball go through them and behind for a goal kick.
It was hard to tell if these through balls were for Aubameyang to run onto or for some kind of overlap from the full-backs and wingers, but nobody seemed to be on that wavelength.
We went behind just before the half-hour mark when Neto found the net following two Arsenal attempts to win the ball in our area with an advantage of 4 v 1 that we lost both times.
Swift repsonse from Arsenal
The response was a quick one and that has to be a minor positive. On recent form we’d be forgiven for expecting some kind of collapse. Gabriel heading home a Willian corner despite having his shirt pulled.
The deep suspicion that we don’t get the rub of the green with VAR calls makes it even more important that he found the net than maybe relying on the officials spotting an offence that should have led to a penalty.
Questions asked over Podence's winning goal
What ultimately proved to be the winning goal came before half-time as Daniel Podence found a way to get his feet quickly into position to beat Leno (for some strange reason wearing the outfield away kit) from close range.
The build-up to the goal asking plenty of questions of the Arsenal defence, notably Hector Bellerin’s decision to come across and double up in the middle while leaving acres of space on his side.
The lead up to the first goal had seen the commentators on Sky praising Arsenal’s defensive record this season only to see them concede the opener three seconds later when favourites to win and clear the ball, the second goal was a different build up but same scrappy outcome in our area.
Have teams worked out Arteta's tactics?
Anyone feel that the stat that we hadn’t conceded from a set-piece this season is slightly tempered by the fact that when we give up goals and chances so easily elsewhere why would the opposition bother?
Arteta had been praised for the fluid formation that allows our full-backs to bomb forward while one of the holding midfielders covers them making a temporary three-man defence, but teams have surely worked this out?
Too many times Tierney and Bellerin were out of position as Wolves mounted attacks.
As well as his goal Gabriel came out with some credit for his performance in the middle, with a partner in each half as Luiz was finally replaced, by Holding, due to his head injury.
Once again our forward play was lacking in any direction or threat, with just two shots on target lowering our already meagre average for the season.
Saka should certainly have done far better with a chance made by Bellerin midway through the second-half, but snatched at his shot.
Aubameyang looked disengaged at times and that has to be a huge concern particularly when he is being relied upon in his preferred role through the middle. Joe Willock had another poor game and Dani Ceballos looks a shadow of the player we thought he might be with that display at home to Burnley last season. A game that seems a very, very long time ago.
Rapid approaches fast
It’s hard to describe the 2000 fans that managed to secure Rapid Vienna tickets for Thursday night as lucky after that, but I guess we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that supporters attending matches is really what it’s all about.
On the other hand you have to speculate that after a third home defeat in a row in the league Arteta was probably spared a chorus of boos at the end of this game.
Most sensible people will say he should be given time, especially after the FA Cup success, but at 30 Premier League games he’s now a full 14 points behind where Unai Emery was at this stage of his Arsenal career.
When Arsene Wenger left the club some said it maybe had to continue to get worse before it could get better, but after two and a half years since his departure do some of the negatives from the latter part of his reign still remain?
North London derby...
Arteta’s post-match interview did grate with a few fans on social media but I don’t think there was much more he could have said if we aren’t going to carry this doom and gloom into a week that has a North London derby at the end of it.
Tottenham look organised and efficient at the moment but have rarely fully capitalised on our weaknesses in recent meetings, with the larger margins of victory in these games belonging to us in recent years. Although away from home it has to be said that it’s well over five years since we won there in the league.
Not having to win in the Europa League midweek is a plus when considering personnel for next Sunday’s game, but another classic Arsenal length of injury extension emerged tonight as the boss stated that Thomas Partey will be out for at least another handful of games.
Lack of options elsewhere could see a line up very similar to today’s, which again has to be another issue to add to those mounting up on Arteta’s desk.
Alan adds: As an avid reader and an occasional contributor for over two decades it goes without saying that it’s a real honour to be able to pen a match report on these pages.
Keep an eye out for more from Alan. Follow him on Twitter @Alan_Alger_