Keeping the Wolves from the door (just)!
Arsenal 1-1 Wolves
After the heroics and positive nature of Arsenal's home draw against high flying Liverpool and a midweek saunter into the next stages of the Europa League it was with a real sense of optimism that I travelled to the Emirates. Gone were the fears of our defence (Holding and Sokratis would surely start?). Our midfield duo of Xhaka and Torriera were beginning to form an understanding and our front three with Ozil behind would surely have too much for a Wolves side that had lost their last three matches? The only dark cloud on my sunny horizon was the team news when it came through, Mustafi returning, which I admit irked me slightly, - but still, it's Wolves at home, right?
Oh how wrong was I!!
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Torreira, Ozil, Iwobi, Aubameyang, Lacazette
Slow, ponderous possession - (please see all previous first halves of the season), a real lack of incision. Fowards not making any kind of runs to help out centre backs trying to make passes World Cup veterans would be proud of (none of them came off). Ozil being Ozil, more hot and cold than Katy Perry.
A right back in Kolasinac, great going forward but having a stinker at the back, not helped by a centre forward playing out of position on the left in Aubameyang who has no defensive mindset at all. This is the same Arsenal side which started so well against Liverpool and caused no end of problems going forward and completely controlled the midfield that day. What's becoming apparent with this team is they can perform but need something to kick them into life - in recent times that has been a half-time team talk; against Wolves whatever the noise, was it went through one ear and out the other.
On 13 mins Xhaka, who had played so well against Liverpool reverted to type. Remember that guy who couldn't run, gave the ball away so much, which would inadvertently turn into a goal for the opposition? Well hello darkness my old friend. Welcome back.
Xhaka just left the ball in midfield, as if Casper The Ghost shouted "leave". By the time the Swiss International tried to get back to recover the attack he had started, the ball was already sitting behind Leno in the back of the net. Three passes and glee for Wolves, 1-0.
Further enjoyment for the travelling masses was only thwarted by the impressive Leno. At least three times in the first half he came to the rescue as Wolves got through one on one behind Kolasinac, while at the other end Bellerin and Lacazette had shots blocked. Arsenal also had a couple of corners which came to nothing, but in terms of danger there was really only one team in it and they deservedly led at half-time.
So another slow start and 1-0 down. The feeling amongst the crowd near me was;
"Maybe the second half bounce will come".
As I looked down to the pitch and saw Guendouzi warming up, I too had similar glow of optimism.
The half-time change made little difference; Iwobi hadn't set the world alight, but he hadn't lit any matches either so an easy sub to make. Guendouzi did drive Arsenal forward quicker, but still Wolves looked dangerous on the counter. Torreira took it upon himself to have a couple of shots from far out, one in particular making the keeper sweat. Bellerin again with his left cleared the bar when he really should have hit the target then on 73 mins, the miss of our season so far. Some neat work on the right found Bellerin crossing low, a tap in for Aubameyang for sure! Five yards out Patrick, go on my son!.... tap it.
-----Insert face palm here---------
Whatever purchase our Gabon superstar made on the ball only sent it over to the far post. A quite unbelievable miss, and I for one at that point had very sinky, sinking feeling!
Unai tried to liven it up with a couple of subs, Kolasinac and 'Ozil who?' off, Ramsey and Mkhitaryan on, quite how Xhaka stayed on the pitch is beyond me. As Arsenal bombed forward, gaps at the back appeared and Leno had to be at his best again to stop another Wolves counter - the fact our equaliser was an equaliser when it came in the 86 minute was down to our keeper. So on 86 minute a curled cross into the Wolves box missed everyone, the ball finding itself in the corner; a fluke of a goal from Mykitaryan and really unlucky on Wolves.
Did that stir the masses and produce a stunning late winner?
What followed was a fake injury to a Wolves player, just 5 minutes of injury-time (should have been 8 at least) and two amazing chances for Wolves to get the winner on the break from their speedy sub Adama Traore - one great save from Leno and another via the cross-bar. When the ref finally put everyone out of their misery the overwhelming feeling was.....
How lucky were Arsenal? A very worrying display; just when Unai was probably thinking he'd cracked it, they go and throw in a display like that!
Positives: Kept the unbeaten run going and Leno.
Negatives: Everything, the team went backwards against Wolves.
What Unai does from here will go some way to defining the season, can he really persist with Xhaka? How many £2K a week performances from Ozil can he afford? Is it time to give youth a chance? Plenty to ponder as another interlull looms!
Leno: Stunning goalkeeping, without him Arsenal lose this match. MOM 9/10
Bellerin: Bust his gut, but final ball poor. 6/10
Mustafi: Tried at least four "FIFA passes", needs to be benched. 6/10
Holding: Started most fo the build up play and defended OK. 7/10
Kolasinac: Had a shocker, the sooner Monreal is back the better. 4/10
Xhaka: Just stop it. 3/10
Torreira: Tried to fill the gaps. 7/10
Ozil: Who?. 5/10
Iwobi: Got hooked at half-time, nothing really came off on the right. 6/10
Aubameyang: Miss of the season, Unai needs a re-think of his position. 6/10
Lacazette: Ran a lot but never looked like scoring. 6/10
Guendouzi: Tried to inject something different. 7/10
Mykitaryan: Got a lucky equaliser, not much else. 7/10
Ramsey: No Roy of the Rovers stuff this time out. 6/10
Next up Bournemouth away after the interlull. The real work begins now Unai!