Arsenal defeat demonstrates Arteta’s progress, and how far is left to go
Arsenal’s controversial defeat away to Wolverhampton Wanderers was as eye-opening as it was frustrating for Arsenal fans. Seemingly comfortable for the first 45 minutes and coasting to victory, the game hinged on the red card for David Luiz, and subsequent goal for Wolves, right on the half time whistle. Whilst the apparent injustice of Luiz’s dismissal rankles still, the game remained Arsenal’s for the taking even with ten men. The second half, however, was a stark contrast to the first, which had likely been the best football played in the Arteta era. Arsenal never really looked like getting back into the tie, even less so after Leno was dismissed for handling outside the box, and in the end went out with a whimper in a fixture that had been theirs for the taking.
Arsenal in First-Half Fantasy
Within twenty seconds, it was clear Arsenal were full of confidence. Thomas Partey dropped a pinpoint pass between the left centre-back and left-back of Wolves, freeing a sprinting Bukayo Saka, whose shot cannoned off the inside of the post and away. This intensity continued, Arsenal hitting the crossbar and having a goal ruled out for offside before Nicolas Pepe eventually opened the scoring in brilliant fashion, curling the ball into the far corner with his weaker right foot after leaving two Wolves defenders for dead.
However, as was far too often the case under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal were made to rue their many missed chances through moments of madness or refereeing idiocy. Whilst it is difficult to blame David Luiz for the penalty and red card scenario, the Brazilian was certainly sucked out of position initially, allowing Willian Jose to run in behind him and forcing the referee to make a decision. How influential the fact that he is called David Luiz is can be debated at length, but the fact of the matter is that even at 1-1 with ten men, Arsenal remained well in the game. It is this type of mistake that was seen every week at the beginning of Arteta’s Arsenal reign, and a huge part of the “change of culture” that the Spaniard outlined last season. This defeat proved that, while Arsenal are much improved, they have not yet fully eliminated the mistakes that often prove decisive in games.
Strange Arsenal Substitutions
Mikel Arteta has had plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his tactical versatility in times of adversity, with The Gunners recording a league high ten red cards since the Spaniard took over. However, when it comes to substitutions, it is fair to say that the jury remains firmly out. Hooking Alexandre Lacazette at half time to allow Gabriel to slot into defence was certainly a questionable decision. Perhaps it is only with hindsight that it becomes so clearly detrimental to the side, as Joao Moutinho fired Wolves ahead from thirty yards just two minutes into the second half, but the decision to remove the side’s focal point and, in doing so, conceding any effort to retain possession, was somewhat headscratching.
The decision to send on Pierre Emerick Aubameyang for Nicolas Pepe was equally bemusing. Pepe had been the most dangerous player on the pitch and was also one of Arsenal’s main ball carriers as they looked to break on the Wolves defence. Aubameyang, who had missed three games due to personal problems and had only just begun training again, seemed a poor replacement if energy was the order of the day, especially when the yourhful and energetic Gabriel Martinelli was an alternative on the bench.
Trusting the process
Change was never going to happen overnight. It is testament to the improved displays that Arsenal have turned in in recent weeks that the defeat at Molineux, against a very stubborn Wolverhampton Wanderers, felt so painful. There is clearly some distance to go, both with the relatively inexperienced manager and his somewhat youthful side. However, if the first half is anything to go by, Arsenal are certainly promising under Arteta’s guidance.