Saturday, August 13, 2022

Wolves 0-1 Arsenal: Three big points, stick the rest of it …

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Step right up, step right up. That’s right folks. It’s the biggest freak show in the Premier League, and you can get involved!

Place your bets NOW on what never-before-seen red card incident will be cooked up in an Arsenal game this time! Will it be the old last-man-howdy-doody? A provocatively unkempt shirt tuck? Looking askance at a lines-person? Or celebrating with too much vigour for the liking of @CFC_and_Spurs_fan_564774884?!

The possibilities are endless! Get yer money down!

I’m with Mikel Arteta on the Gabriel Martinelli red card. I’ve never seen that happen before in the Premier League, and while technically it might be two yellows (there are technicalities around the first one that might render it a talking point), the manager’s comments about how the official has to be ‘really willing’ to send a player off for that are spot on. Like, you have to really, really want to do it if you’re going to reduce a team to 10 men for that. There was 100% desire to show a red card, and 0% common sense applied.

Which isn’t to say we don’t have a problem, we most certainly do because for a team that isn’t a dirty team or one that makes a lot of brutal tackles, we get far too many red cards. Maybe it’s just our players. We don’t have one of those guys who can clatter his way around the pitch like a bull in a china shop with the referee seemingly blind to the fact that tea-sets and plates and vases are being smashed to smithereens. Thomas Partey has been booked for his last three fouls (via @orbinho).

Clearly we have to solve it, but I also think last night’s red card was a big load of old bullshit. I say that as an Arsenal fan with my Arsenal fan hat on, of course, but I guarantee you this incident has immediately transcended to the same pantheon as Granit Xhaka v Burnley Swansea – a sending off that you only ever see once in your entire life. It will not happen again in the Premier League, no way, and it could only happen to us – so my inclination this morning is be cheesed off by it.

Those few minutes around the sending off were extraordinary too, perhaps somewhat obscured by Martinelli’s dismissal. From the resulting free kick, what would have been a Granit Xhaka own goal was chalked off because Raul Jimenez was offside and interfering in the build up, and then we had a glorious chance to make it 2-0. Alexandre Lacazette was sent in behind by a fantastic Gabriel pass, but with just the keeper to beat he curled it wide. The way the opposition crowd react to a player missing a chance tells you plenty about how good an opportunity it was, and the Wolves fans cheers when the ball went wide highlighted exactly that. It did nothing to ease my concerns about our striking situation, and I felt sure that miss would come back to haunt us.

Thankfully, it didn’t. In no small part to the defensive effort we made as a team, the 10 men stayed organised and compact, and 100% switched on in the penalty box as Wolves dominated possession and territory. Credit to Mikel Arteta for his decision to replace Bukayo Saka with Rob Holding. I wasn’t sure about that one when he made it, but clearly the plan was made to sit in and defend what we had, and Holding played a huge part in that.

In his 19 minutes + injury time, he made 9 clearances, 8 of which were in our box. Aaron Ramsdale, to that point basically untroubled by a fairly toothless Wolves side, was needed. He made saves and gave us presence as the bombardment continued. It felt relentless at times, we could barely get out of our own half, and even towards the end we had the chance to see out the game in the corner but for some reason Eddie Nketiah decided to play a pass straight to their goalkeeper. WHY?! It gave them a corner, again it was well defended, we got it clear and the final whistle went, but the ball should never have been allowed come back down our end.

I, for one, enjoyed our players celebrating, not least because it exposed a lot of idiots online. ‘Imagine celebrating like this for a win over Wolves’, was the general theme of the terminally always-online responders to a Tweet which showed Ramsdale and Gabriel punching the air and being happy that their defensive effort had protected three valuable points.

Football is a game filled with celebrations of varying shapes and sizes. Players celebrate scoring a goal in the first minute, for goodness sake. 89 minutes later and their team might have pumped 5-1 but in those moments after the goal they enjoyed it, and the fans enjoyed it. The idea that having been reduced to 10 men (and I suspect the players thought the red was unfair too), then digging in and producing a backs-to-the-wall defensive performance to take three points against a team not far away from us in the table isn’t something to relish when the final whistle blows is just abject nonsense.

No, we didn’t win the Champions League in that moment. No, there wasn’t a trophy. No, we didn’t somehow win the World Cup. But if you strip football down to a point where the only thing you can celebrate is a trophy at the end of the season, you rob it of everything that’s great about it. Why would leagues and teams exist if that’s all it was? Nobody would bother because there would be nothing to like about it.

I realise a lot of it is this ‘gotcha’ culture that exists online, fans of rival teams looking for anything to have the ‘bantz’ and to do #numbers for their extremely-online #content, but it’s still really tiresome. I can’t say I enjoyed much about that game in general, and especially not the period after we went down to 10 men, but I loved the final whistle, I loved the three points, I loved the Wolves manager (who looks like someone brought the snowman from Frozen to life) bitching and moaning about our perfectly good goal. And, in particular, I loved the fact that the celebration police felt they had to be bee-baw their evening away on Twitter while Arsenal fans laughed because at the end of the day we won the game and those were three very big points that we absolutely needed. Frankly, they can stick it all up their holes, sideways.

Afterwards, Mikel Arteta was keen to praise the character of his team, saying:

I keep telling you guys how close they are, how much they like to play together, the unity and togetherness around that dressing room and how willing they are to defend that shirt every single match. I really mean it when I say that and today was another example. I think we have so many and that’s why I’m proud to be the coach of these players.

We had to dig in, we had to suffer, we showed great resilience, we defended the box extremely well, and that’s why at the end we got the points.

I suppose you could say we’ve had plenty of practice when it comes to playing with 10 men, and it was barely a few weeks ago when we did something similar at Anfield, but for even longer. As admirable as that is though, we have to ensure we stop this sequence of red cards. It’s not as easy as it sounds, because while we can do more to keep our discipline (Xhaka’s yellow, for example, was silly), it feels like a self-perpetuating thing right now. We get a load of red cards because we’re easy to give red cards to so we get a lot of red cards. Some of it, let’s be honest, is actually out of our control, but all we can do is stay on top of what is in our hands.

So, Martinelli will miss Brentford, which is a shame, but the important thing about last night was getting points under our belt and we did exactly that. We have another eight days until we play again, so there’s plenty of time to recover, keep working, and when it comes to the meat and drink of these remaining games, ensure we do a bit better. Wolves are a tough nut to crack with a very good defensive record, so there is that, but let’s not sit too comfortably on a resolute win. Improvement should always be a target. However, this morning I’m very happy with those three points and hopefully it’s another game which strengthens the very obvious unity there is between these players.

Ok, that’s that. We’ll have a post-game podcast for you in a little while, keep an eye out for that.

Until then, take it easy.

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