I’m getting on this blog as soon as I can after the game. Maybe that’s dangerous as I haven’t fully had chance to digest it, but I can’t shake this overwhelming feeling of absolute despair after watching that 90 minutes.
I know I would have taken a point before the game. I know it’s Arsenal and we obviously shouldn’t feel any sense of entitlement when it comes to a victory, but my word how have we not won that game?
Going into this one I honestly felt this could be the day that we break the Arsenal hoodoo. They remain the only one of the big six that we haven’t conquered in the Premier League era. We’ll get more goes at them, no doubt, but this feels like a missed opportunity. It was all going so swimmingly.
The first half was almost picture perfect. The team played with so much conviction and it amazes me the arrogance of some of the bigger sides in this league. It was quite obvious from the first whistle that very little thought had gone into combating our strengths. Our right flank has been our trump card throughout this season and the Matt Doherty-Helder Costa axis had the run of the pitch almost at will. There were a few instances where a little more composure would have served us well, but ultimately the goal came and it was richly deserved.
Raul Jimenez provided further evidence here that getting in a striker shouldn’t be the priority it is made out to be, but lifting the output of the players around him will ensure we bear the fruit of our endeavours in other areas of the pitch. Ivan Cavaleiro is our best chance of that and he clearly poses the greatest threat to goal of our selection of wide forwards. Costa again was excellent up until the penalty box and having found himself in some very good positions, needs to start making the most of them. But realistically there was so little to complain about during that first half that it would be nitpicking to do so. Arsenal were reduced to zero shots on target and they looked as pedestrian as they ever did during the late Wenger years.
So far so good, a well earned half time rest and surely just a call for more of the same right? Arsenal made a change seemingly to gain a little more control in the middle of the field by bringing on Matteo Guendouzi, but it wasn’t the kind of alteration that you felt would quell the flow of the game. Once again, Arsenal toiled to break us down, but we seemed to drop deeper and deeper and deeper, which prevented us from getting out and breaking on Arsenal in the same fashion. Doherty in particular was pinned back as Arsenal’s attacks were continually focused down their left hand side, with Granit Xhaka swinging aimless ball after aimless ball into the box.
We were defending stoutly, but there was a lingering feeling that we were inviting pressure against a team with a centre-back pairing of Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi. In other words, turning the tables on Arsenal and pressing them would have allowed us to relieve pressure. Again, it feels like nitpicking, but this Arsenal team was there for the taking. It did happen eventually, with the arrival of Adama Traore, but the goal felt like a symptom of our own nervousness and sudden lack of conviction of our ideas. It was a total contrast to the first half. We were giving the ball away, there were lazy attempts to keep hold of it and there seemed a real element of fatigue, as evidenced by Helder Costa just dropping to the floor and asking to be substituted. Maybe I’m being harsh but an extra five minutes of Traore allowing us to get out and take us up the pitch would have done wonders for our energy levels deeper into the game.
There’s little analysis to be taken from the equaliser. We were deep, it was a tempting ball in and we’ve seen it happen on many occasions in football matches before. The frustration was thereafter, we managed to lift ourselves and do exactly what we should have been doing for the previous twenty minutes. We seemed to regain some composure and we threatened to win the game again. Having equalised Arsenal never looked like scoring a winner, but Bernd Leno came to Arsenal’s rescue to deny Traore and also tip Gibbs-White’s effort on to the bar.
This will be a tough journey home for those lads. They know they had the game within their grasp and it feels a bit harsh to criticise them after what in its entirety was an excellent away performance against one of the elite teams in the Premier League. But that question lingers on: what if? What if we had just come out of our shells a little more? Again, there is a lesson to be had from this even though we haven’t lost the game. The players have learned little-by-little over the course of this four-game winless run. The most important thing that we’ve done is stop the rot with a performance full of tenacity, skill, poise and quality.
Make no mistake, this was no flukey, desperate point that we clinged on to. Much of this display was consummate from Wolves. That icing on the cake of three points is all that was missing. Let’s hope that faith that seemed to waver over the last few games has been fully restored. Well played lads.