By Richard Clarke
Arsenal pulled off a highly-welcome win at Wolves on Wednesday night.
Marouane Chamakh scored in the opening seconds and injury time to secure victory but in between the visitors had to survive significant pressure from the home side.
Andrey Arshavin and Cesc Fabregas forced fine saves from Marcus Hahnemann in the opening half-hour but, after the break, Lukasz Fabianski topped that by foiling Kevin Doyle and Christophe Berra as Wolves pressed hard for the equaliser.
A Fabregas foul on Stephen Ward drew derision from the crowd late on but it did not affect the result.
Arsenal had toughed it out to record a significant victory.
Manchester United’s point at Eastlands means Wenger’s side are still third. But tonight at Molineux, in the most trying of circumstances, Arsenal proved a point to themselves.
The manager made three changes from the side beaten by Newcastle on Sunday. Laurent Koscielny was suspended after his late dismissal in that game so Johan Djourou stepped into central defence.
These two sides came into this game on the back of very different defeats. Arsenal had been so disappointing against Newcastle while Wolves had gained creditability before falling to a last-gasp goal at Manchester United.
It felt like a crossroads game for Wenger’s side. Sunday’s defeat had left them in need of a win this evening – any colour, any kind – to get back into title race. Mathematically they would still be in the hunt but, mentally, a third straight defeat would be hard to cure.
Fortunately, the medicine was administered after exactly 38 seconds this evening.
Rosicky floated into the Wolves half and fed Alex Song on the right. His cross found Chamakh drifting between two defenders at the far post. The Moroccan slid his header past Hahnemann and into the corner. It was his seventh strike in all competitions this season.
The goal was everything Arsenal needed and they immediately pressed home their advantage.
In the sixth minute, Arshavin won the ball from Michael Mancienne in midfield and went clear for a second. He managed to get his shot away but Hahnemann stood up to make the save and the home defence mopped up the loose ball.
The Russian had been Arsenal’s most sparky player on Sunday and built upon that eye-catching cameo this evening. He probed the Wolves defence in the opening half-hour and ran the channels with eagerness.
At this stage it was all Arsenal. Rosicky saw a shot deflect wide and, in the 19th minute, Fabregas could have added a second.
Arshavin and Chamakh set up the Spaniard for a snap-shot from the edge of the area through a thicket of legs. The ball hit Hahnemann’s legs and bounced clear. Not that the keeper knew too much about it.
However, after that, Arsenal could not maintain their momentum. Wolves came back in the game and began to threaten. However the created little until the 28th minute when Stephen Hunt floated in a free-kick and the stretching Doyle drifted a header just over the bar.
Five minutes before the break, Sebastien Squillaci deflected a left-wing cross from Nenad Milijas towards the far post and Fabianski threw out his left hand to palm the ball aside from the waiting Stephen Hunt.
Arsenal were still feeling the shot across the bows as they went into the tunnel at the interval.
History nearly repeated itself at the start of the second half. Within seconds of the whistle, Jack Wilshere lost his footing and only a mad scramble at the near post stopped Milijas squeezing home the equaliser.
However three minutes later Arsenal spurned an even better chance themselves. Richard Steadman’s errant pass gave the ball to Rosicky, who instantly fed the unmarked Fabregas in the D. The skipper hooked his shot wide when he should have scored.
As we approached the hour, Wolves had enjoyed more pressure but precious few chances. In fact, at this point, Fabianski’s most important influence on the game had been saving from his own defender.
That would rapidly change. In the 57th minute, Doyle turned and sent a ferocious shot toward the top corner. Fabianski gymnastically tipped over.
The corner found Stearman at the far post and Rosicky had to hurriedly hack the ball off the line.
Seconds later, Hunt fired in a free-kick from the right and the stooping Kevin Foley sent a header on to the top of the net.
They were all credible chances and, unless the visitors broke the shackles, they would be conceding pretty soon.
In the 65th minute, Arshavin did his best to alleviate the pressure. The midfielder scurried in from the left and fired a daisy-cutter against the base of the post. Shortly afterwards the same player had a piledriver blocked in the area.
Those chances hardly quelled Wolves’ ambitions but at least the home side’s pressure was not calling Fabianski into action any more.
And, as the game entered its latter stages, Arsenal began to assert themselves again.
Ten minutes from time, an unmarked Squillaci could not turn home a corner and Djourou’s follow-up was deflected wide. A stupefying miss.
As the seconds ticked by, Wolves chanced their arm for the final time. Doyle drove forward and fired wide and, after a Fabregas foul forced Ward to be stretchered off, they created arguably their clearest chance of the night.
The ball fell to Berra on the edge of the area and the centre back’s contact was clean. His low shot flew to Fabianski’s left but the Pole thrust out his hand and clutched on to the ball.
Chamakh’s late breakaway goal sealed the victory but, in reality, a couple of key stops from Fabianski, combined with a committed if not water-tight performance, had been enough take the points.
It had been a night for a gutsy, not a classy, Arsenal.
- Wilshere 67
- Arshavin 90
- Fabregas Yellow Card
- Chamakh 90 Goal! Goal!
- Nasri 90
- Denilson 67 Yellow Card
- Bendtner 90
- Stearman Yellow Card
- Mancienne 78
- Ward 87
- Edwards 7
- Hunt 7
- Ebanks-Blake 78
- Fletcher 87