I bet you thought you had seen it all in football! On a night when three points would have lifted us momentarily into the top six and provided a significant, much-needed boost for our European aspirations, Arsenal instead fell to a 2-1 defeat away to Wolves, with two bizarre red cards condemning Mikel Arteta’s side to their first Premier League loss of 2021.
While dropping points in any game tends to leave a sour taste in the mouth, it was perhaps the manner of Tuesday’s defeat that will make fans feel most aggrieved.
After dominating proceedings for much of the first half, Arsenal were very harshly reduced to ten men just before the break, when a coming together between Willian José and David Luiz led to the former Chelsea man’s dismissal. To add insult to injury, Bernd Leno later received the same punishment when he foolishly handled the ball outside the penalty area.
Although the red card double whammy effectively ended the Gunners’ hopes of at least a share of the points at Molineux, one source of frustration/comfort that can be taken from the game is the team’s collective performance prior to the controversy, which saw them play arguably their best football since Arteta’s arrival at the club.
Arsenal show clear signs of progress despite continued bad luck
In a game that required a big performance, Arsenal delivered with a truly breath-taking start.
The passing was quick and incisive, every player showed full commitment to the high press, and brilliant runs from Nicolas Pepe and Bukayo Saka repeatedly carved open a disorientated Wolves defence. In truth, considering Saka’s early miss and the goal that was ruled out for offside, Arsenal were unfortunate not to be ahead by a couple of goals at the break.
The bad luck that befell Arsenal at Molineux has caused plenty of furore among supporters, but it is just the latest manifestation of the bad luck that has plagued us throughout the season. From injuries to key players including Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey and the illnesses that side-lined Gabriel and Willian, to the idiotic suspensions earned by Granit Xhaka and Pepe earlier in the campaign, Arteta has faced a lot of adversity in his first full managerial season which has hampered his ability to build momentum with the squad.
Even though these are grievances probably shared by various managers within the footballing community, they must be particularly hard to accept for a young coach who is still trying to convince some that he is the right man for the job.
However, on Tuesday we witnessed a complete first half display featuring energy, organisation and quality, epitomising the improvements the boss has made to the team and how every player is buying into his project.
Unfortunately, we do not have much time to wallow in self-pity as Arsenal are back in action for Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off away to Aston Villa. The Villans are fierce competitors in the battle for the Europa League places, and emphatically proved their credentials with a convincing 3-0 win in the reverse fixture.
We may feel hard done by after the Molineux madness in midweek, but both the display in the first half and the character shown to remain competitive later in the match, despite the numerical disadvantage, should provide hope that Arteta is beginning to make his mark at the club.