Arsenal 1-1 Wolves: Hennessey’s heroics

Arsenal 1-1 Wolves

Match reportvideoBy the numbers

Looking back on yesterday’s game in the cold light of day there’s still frustration and disappointment, to a fair degree, but I can’t really find any real issue with how we played, how we went about the game and the effort we put in.

I know there are people this morning who will bemoan our finishing and say we should have scored considering the chances we fashioned. And I get that completely. On the other hand it seems a bit churlish to me not to acknowledge a quite outstanding goalkeeping performance from Wayne Hennessey.

The other day I was sitting with the Mugsmasher as we watched the men watching football. Chris Kamara was reporting from Liverpool v Blackburn and telling everyone what a game the Blackburn keeper was having. “You know,” opined the ‘smasher, “I get mighty tired of all these keeper having the game of their lives against us.”

“Funny you should say that,” I replied, “for very often the exact same thing happens to us. They turn up, bold as brass, and play really well. The absolute bastards”.

Lo and behold the very next day the Wolves keeper had what must have been the best game of his life. I make the point about Liverpool only because the perception that keepers have those kinds of games isn’t just something that we suffer from. He, personally, survived a second half onslaught, single-handedly (sometimes footedly) keeping Arsenal at bay. As vexatious as it was you have to give him credit for it.

We started the game brightly, scoring after just eight minutes. As Wolves caused problems up our end we broke quickly with Rosicky, Benayoun’s pass found Gervinho and although he’s been somewhat woeful when faced with goal recently he did well to make the space to score with his left foot. We dominated possession, as you would imagine, without creating too many clear cut chances. One van Persie shot at the near post drew Hennessey’s first good save of the game, this came after the Dutchman had wriggled away from an obvious foul on the edge of the box.

Their equaliser showed that for all our defensive improvement in recent weeks there’s still work to be done. When Hunt’s deflected shot from the edge of the box bobbled through to Fletcher, a well organised unit would have already moved out and the Wolves player would have been offside. We were slow, however, and his header ambled in at the far post despite the desperate reach of Szczesny. If it was annoying at the time it was even more so at the final whistle when that proved to be the final goal of the game.

In the second half Arsenal set about Wolves with real energy and endeavour. We’ve had frustrating games before when we’ve over-passed it and lacked forward drive but not yesterday. It wasn’t one of those games where we were afraid to shoot. We had 27 shots in total (20 of those in the 2nd half!), 11 on target, Hennessey made 10 saves and yet we couldn’t find the goal to take the points.

The Wolves keeper saved from van Persie, a Mertesacker header which I thought was going in, Arshavin volleyed one just wide, Rosicky shot just wide, Vermaelen was clean through and Hennessey saved again at point blank range, and twice we found Robin van Persie over the top with beautifully weighted balls (from Ramsey and Rosicky) but on both occasions his touch wasn’t good enough when normally you’d expect him to take it down and finish.

If there’s a criticism to be made it goes back to the lack of options from the bench, the lack of a player who can get us a goal when we really need it. Chamakh was an obvious choice given how many crosses we were throwing in – and I understand why he was put on ahead of The Ox to be honest – but that Chamakh was the only choice is the real issue for me. And despite being out of quarantine and fully adapated there wasn’t even a place for Park on the bench. For a manager like Arsene Wenger, whose benches were always forward-heavy, it’s a bit careless and something he has got to address in January.

Afterwards, Arsene said:

It is frustrating but I am more frustrated by the result than the performance and the spirit. You cannot fault the attitude or the commitment or the desire to win the game. We missed a great opportunity but we just have to keep going and take the positives out of the game today.

At the moment what we have to learn is that when we are 1-0 up in some departments we cannot be too comfortable. We were caught in a position where we can only blame ourselves.

While Mikel Arteta has urged more focus at home:

Everyone tried really hard, it was one of those games. We had seven to 10 chances to win it but, as I said, it did not happen for us. Every side in the Premier League works hard but one goal is not enough. We have to be ruthless at home and keep more clean sheets to make sure we don’t drop points.

Hard to disagree with the Spaniard there and if there’s a fine line between winning and drawing, the line for me yesterday was a defensive one. I can’t be critical of Robin van Persie (how could anyone?) or the effort from an attacking point of view, but that one lapse in concentration at the back is what really cost us the two points yesterday. It was basic stuff too and something I hope we’ll learn a lesson from for the games to come.

Overall, it is disappointing to drop points against Wolves at home, and disappointing not to close the gap on those above us, but there’s still plenty of football to be played and we’ve got to make sure we don’t make the same kind of mistakes against QPR on Saturday.

Finally, just a word about the ref, Stuart Atwell. Let me make it clear – I’m not blaming him for anything – but he was so far below the standard you would expect from a top flight referee yesterday. The Wolves sending off was a joke, it was a yellow card, at most, and he and his assistants missed a clear handball for what should have been an Arsenal penalty. Add to that his Dowdesque desire to make sure he was noticeable at all times along with his overall lack of authority, and he came close to losing control of the game altogether.

Alex Song was booked, rightly I should add, but his frustration was borne out of the fact he’d been fouled in the build up and the ref, standing right there watching, waved play on. The quality of officiating in general this season has been lamentable at times, Atwell’s performance yesterday right up there with one of the worst. And that’s saying something.

Righto, onwards and upwards (and possibly a bit sideways). Focus now on Saturday. Till tomorrow.