Sunday, 8 November 2009

Wolves torn to shreds - the headline I promised I wouldn't write. Match report.

A couple of weeks ago, it was hard to know whether to be optimistic or pessimistic. Many commented that the general criticism of Arsenal post-West Ham was over-the-top.

But the problem was, that on the 29th of October 2008, at about 9.30, the season so far had provided enough to be pretty optimistic. The previous week we had scored five goals in a European away game for the first time since our first of two brilliant nights in the San Siro; we had then gone to Upton Park and won with a clean sheet against a resurgent West Ham side; and finally, we were 4-2 up on Spurs and cruising, looking to keep very much in the hunt for the title.

Whilst a long-term title challenge never materialised last season, at the end of October we should have been optimistic. But then we dropped two points against Spurs.

The point of all of this, is that the defeat to Hull in September 2008 was a blip and we were very much still in contention for the League until the draw to Spurs halted all our momentum.

As it happens, we have actually recovered well from the ridiculousness of Upton Park. We beat Liverpool in the Carling Cup, managed to beat Spurs in the League, and had an excellent win in mid-week against Alkmaar.

But, this weekend still held particular interest. For it was, on this corresponding matchday last season, that Arsenal imploded. It led to my angriest ever blog post when we lost to Stoke. It truly was a shambles of the first degree, where we were outjumped and outhoofed. Though I hate to say it, in one way we were tactically outclassed.

So Wolves was a huge match. Last year, we were away against a newly promoted team with a huge fondness for the long ball; this year, away at a newly promoted team who have a lesser fondness for the long ball. Nonetheless, on the eve of an international break and wanting to keep morale and a title challenge up, a win was essential.

And so it came to pass.

But a 4-1 scoreline can gloss over the relative poverty of Arsenal's play for the first twenty minutes. We were ordinary. Very, very ordinary in fact. Against a team who look they face a fight against relegation. The best chance of the game up until the twenty minute mark, went to Sylvain Ebanks-Blake. It was only once Alex Song (rested before an international break?!) came on, that we suddenly started to play some really good football.

Undoubtedly, it's harsh on Diaby to celebrate his injury and it must be hoped that it isn't long-term, but our play improved substantially once Song came on. That, is an indisputable fact.

The goals varied in quality. The first was a tad lucky but if you the ball in areas like that, it makes it very difficult for defenders. And Ronald Zubar now has another claim to fame aside from the popular quiz question, "who is the last player alphabetically in the current list of Premier League players?".

The second was very fortuitous, but arguably the luck Eduardo had there was just reward for the penalty he should have been given. The third goal was a breathtaking example of how to move the football round the pitch before Fabregas finished sublimely, and the fourth was well struck, even if Arshavin should never have been allowed that much space.

But whilst Ramsey got better as the match went on, arguably this match threw up more questions than answers. It was to be expected that we would beat Wolves, and on current form, we're playing like a team who should be challenging for trophies at the end of the season. But January is a big month, with the Carling Cup semi-final, two round of the FA Cup, as well as some truly important league games.

So it is somewhat worrying, how poor we looked without Song for 20 minutes. That's not to say we'll always be that poor without him, and Denilson is much better at the holding role than Ramsey, but it's a worry nonetheless.

Still, an away win with four goals scored, on the eve of an international break is not to be sniffed at. But greater challenges will follow later in the month. It is imperative that our players come back fit from the International break. But that would be a first...

Keep the faith,