It was a game that potentially could have been a banana skin. In the end we took the skin off the banana, ate the banana, then put the skin under Wolves who seemed unaware of the danger of a banana skin, thinking that oranges were the only fruit.
It was over as a contest in the first 11 minutes. Firstly, on loan Sp*rs defender Sebastian Bassong was sent off for hauling down Walcott when Robin van Persie’s chip put him clean through. In the light of current events it does highlight how harsh the punishment is for one small, single foul – penalty, red card, one game ban – when others get away with so much worse, but those, stupid as they are, are the laws right now. Robin van Persie stepped up and despite being without a goal in four games put away the penalty in some style. He waited for Hennessey to move then dinked a little sand wedge down the middle to make it 1-0.
A couple of minutes later and it was game over. Again it was a Walcott – van Persie combo, this time Theo took it on and finished beautifully at Hennessey’s near post to make it 2-0. From then on Arsenal knew it was simply a matter of keeping the ball, tiring out the 10 men and seeing the game out. After that we went a bit flat, it has to be said. At the time I was keen to see us up the tempo a bit and really put the game to bed, 2-0 is a good lead but hardly insurmountable, even with 10 men.
In the cold light of day, however, I guess it was a professional performance. Yes, we put the handbrake on again when I think with a bit more endeavour we could have finished the game off long before we did, but was there any real point in running ourselves into the ground against a team from whom we could keep the ball most of the time? Which is precisely what we did, setting a new PL record this season for completed passes.
The danger, however, was that one goal would see them back in it and as the home side got more into the game in the second half only a fantastic save from Wojciech Szczesny prevented Kevin Doyle from getting one back. His header across goal was touched around the post by the big Pole, one of his best saves this season, and I guess it’s a sign that he’s developing into a real top quality goalkeeper that he can pull off that kind of save despite having little else to do during the game.
It took until the 69th minute to make completely sure. Yossi Benayoun was set up on the edge of the box by Alex Song, he shaped to shoot in the far corner and wrong-footed Hennessey by going near side. 3-0 Arsenal and game over. There were others chances, the Wolves keeper saving well from Ramsey and the Welsh skipper should have had a penalty when he was clearly taken down in the box. His willingness to get up again and have a shot, combined with a ref who probably felt sorry for the home side, meant nothing was given.
In the end it was probably the most comfortable three points we’ve taken since the Blackburn game at home and while some might argue the handbrake going on was a frustration, in the grand scheme of things it’s not that important at all. All that mattered was the result and the three points which now give us a 5 point lead over Sp*rs and Newcastle, and 7 over Chelsea. Afterwards, Arsene said:
We started well and then had a situation where we could control the game. Did we push on or not? After that we played a bit with the handbrake on, they played deeper and defended like mad with a great spirit until the end of the game.
And on being in the top three:
I am very happy that we are in this position but I am also very cautious because some teams have been in that position before. We want to win our next game because where we have come from this season we must be focused. We have come from very deep and to stay in this position we have to focus on our next game.
Surely there can be no better illustration of how we need to keep working than last night’s result at the DW. United were going there to maintain their 8 point lead over City, and lost 1-0. Considering Wigan are our next opponents then it’s something we have to take note of. They were unlucky against Chelsea, beat United and they won’t be afraid of us by any means.
Overall though, it was a solid performance. Ramsey in for Rosicky raised some pre-game eyebrows but the Czech has played 90 minutes in almost every game since the start of February, and let’s remember, he’s rarely (if ever) had that kind of a run in the team since his arrival. There’s no doubt Ramsey can improve, his finishing in particular, but he finished with a 91% pass completion rate and, I thought, had a good game. I can understand people’s frustration with him at times, I just don’t get the way people say ‘Ramsey?!!!’ the same way they might say ‘Sylvester?!!!’
The other notable change, or lack of, was that even at 3-0 up there was no attempt to remove Robin van Persie from the fray. I guess it’s down to the fact he doesn’t want to come off, fancying his chances of more goals against a team playing with 10 men, but it’s also a further illustration of the pointlessness of Chamakh and Park. What can they possibly prove now anyway? There are those who say we should protect Robin from potential injury, but that could happen in the first minute of a game as easily as the last. And if he wants 90 minutes then I don’t see any harm.
So, a good night for us, 27 points out of 30 now, and third place is well and truly in our own hands. Wigan reminded us last night that Monday won’t be any kind of walkover, but we can focus on that in the days to come.
Back tomorrow with an Arsecast. Until then.