By Richard Clarke
Arsenal extended their unbeaten run to 13 games with a sublime 4-1 win at Molineux on Saturday.
Although Wolves put Arsène Wenger’s side under pressure in the opening 20 minutes, the hosts shot themselves in the foot in twice around the half-hour.
First Ronald Zubar scuffed Cesc Fabregas’ corner into his own net from close range then Jody Craddock nodded Eduardo’s chip past his own keeper.
Fabregas scored a wonderfully-worked third on the stroke of half-time to seal the points and, just to make sure, Andrey Arshavin rifled home a fourth midway through the second period. Craddock’s consolation header meant little.
This was the best message Arsenal could send out to Manchester United and Chelsea before they meet at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
The three points pushed Wenger’s men up to second in the table, albeit temporarily, and their four goals made it 25 in their last eight League and Cup games.
Whoever triumphs in West London on Sunday, they will realise he side from the north of the capital are looking like real title contenders.
Wenger made three changes from the side that had swept aside AZ Alkmaar in midweek. The headline alteration saw Aaron Ramsey replace Alex Song in front of the back four. Samir Nasri dropped out for Eduardo while Bacary Sagna slotted in at right back in place of Emmanuel Eboue.
Molineux is a lovely arena, steeped in football heritage and the Wolves’ fans know how to create a pre-match atmosphere.
Their team responded in the opening stages.
Manager Mick McCarthy had promised his side would attack Arsenal and they were as good as his word. But although they poured forward persistantly, there was little cutting edge. In fact the closest they came in the first half was from a couple of left-wing corners delivered by Nenad Milijas.
The first saw Kevin Doyle flick a header towards the far post and Kieran Gibbs cleared off the line. Then, in the 10th minute, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake nodded wide just wide but, in fairness, Fabregas seemed to have the effort covered at the far post.
Eduardo had claims for a penalty when he back-heeled the ball through the legs of Zubar and was clipped as he tried to go past. However referee Steve Bennett was disinterested.
At this stage, Arsenal were yet to click into gear. In fact it took the introduction of Song midway through the half to properly jolt them into life.
Diaby hobbled off and the Cameroonian came on in his usual position. This released Ramsey further forward and the change helped Arsenal.
However the alteration had little to do with the opener. That was a self-inflicted wound from Wolves.
Craddock nodded a Fabregas free-kick ball behind his own goal, the Spaniard sent over the corner and Zubar nudged the ball into his own net. The Arsenal players ran to Eduardo, who had put the Wolves defender under pressure but the Croatian dismissed any congratulations. Replays proved he had not got a touch.
The strike was unlucky on Wolves given the balance of play but their defending had been woeful.
Seven minutes later it was 2-0. Ramsey and Eduardo raced clear with only Craddock as cover. The Welshman fed the Croatian, who tried to return the favour. However the ball flicked off the defender and flew over keeper Wayne Hennessey.
Yet again, while the execution of the goal had been fortunate, the Wolves backline had been highly culpable.
Understandably the home side were now thinking this was just not going to be their day. And Arsenal profited from their despondency.
On the whistle, Sagna clipped the ball to Van Persie who displayed the deftest of touches to set up Fabregas to fire home at the near post.
At the break, Arsenal had the points in the bag.
The second half was a listless affair. The visitors saw no need to extend themselves much further and Wolves now lacked the confidence to go on the offensive.
In the 66th minute Arshavin, who had been quiet, darted inside his marker and fired in a shot that tested Hennessey to the full. When the corner came across, the keeper could only slap the ball out to the Russian. He thumped a low shot into the corner of the net from the edge of the area.
Wenger withdrew Eduardo and Arshavin for Tomas Rosicky and Nasri.
By now Arsenal were almost playing exhibition football. For example with 16 minutes left, Fabregas hacked horribly over the bar from Van Persie’s cutback. However the Spaniard’s reaction was a smile not a grimace.
Van Persie and Rosicky also wasted decent chances in the close stages as Arsenal tried to play out time. Wolves did grab some consolation a minute from time when Craddock headed home a corner from Matthew Jarvis.
It was a shame Arsenal could not keep a clean sheet however that was the most minor of blots on an ultra-efficient performance.
- Gibbs Yellow Card
- Diaby 23
- Fabregas (C) Goal!
- Arshavin 74 Goal! Yellow Card
- Eduardo 70
- Rosicky 70
- Song 23
- Nasri 74
- Craddock Goal!
- Edwards 79
- Milijas 73 Yellow Card
- Ebanks-Blake Yellow Card
- Castillo 64
- Kightly 64
- Jarvis 73
- Mancienne 79