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Arsenal 2 - Wolves 1: never in doubt

They did the thing!

Arsenal v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Have any of y’all come down yet? I haven’t. I’m still buzzing out of my mind over Arsenal’s dramatic, at-the-death 2-1 win over Wolves. What a finish. That’s why we love football so much. Where else can we get this kind of feeling?

Arsenal deserved three points on the day. I hate the word “deserved” when talking about results. But it’s the apt one. The Gunners gifted Wolves a goal. Wolves played bunkered-in, negative, ugly football all match, wasted time, and in the end, it came back to bite them. Arsenal attacked and attacked and attacked. They fired 26 attempts on goal, the 2nd-most since Arsene Wenger stepped down. They generated 2.7 xG.

Arsenal were the better team. And in a sport where the better team doesn’t win, to get the full points, coming from behind, feels really good. Wolves hadn’t lost this season when leading at halftime, they were 11 of 12 with just the one draw. They’d also won five consecutive away matches in the Premier League. There is a delicious irony and karma in shattering both those streaks in the 5th minute of added time against a side that had time-wasted since going ahead in the 10th minute, too.

It was one of those “good teams find a way to win” performances that we haven’t seen from the Gunners in a while. There’s something special with this bunch. I’m telling you.

I don’t really get Wolves. Objectively, they’re a good team. They grind out results and their form and table position speaks for itself. But when you watch them it looks awful — like, bottom half of the table stuff. It’s horrible to watch. One thing I did enjoy from Wolves today was watching Ruben Neves get put on skates again and again. Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka, and Eddie Nketiah all made him look way over-aggressive and foolish in the midfield. Maybe next time don’t try to be the celebration police, eh?

I’ll start with the good from Arsenal. Martin Ødegaard was magnificent (again). He had seven completed passes into the box. Bukayo Saka was second with three. I didn’t notice MØ as much today as I have in the past few games, but clearly he was doing his job. He covered 12.02 km of ground on the day, the most of any Arsenal player all season. He’s settled into / become exactly what we knew and everybody said Arsenal needed in the center of the park coming in to the season.

Nicolas Pépé was my Man of the Match, which isn’t an easy thing to do as a 71st minute substitute. But his introduction changed things. When facing a team as compact as Wolves, you need players that are going to unbalance the defense and pull opponents out of shape. You can do that either by making intelligent runs in behind or beating players on the dribble. Arsenal don’t make the best runs, so it had to be dribbling. And Pépé delivered. Pépé’s turn and shoot for the equalizing goal was a thing of beauty, a silky smoothy, classy finish. Shout out to Eddie Nketiah for a lovely pass on the move and making a difference as a substitute as well. His energy and workrate changed things.

Thomas Partey was solid. The preseason injury clearly got him off to a slow start, but the second half of the year he has been every bit the key player and calming presence in the midfield Arsenal need him to be. He misplaced a pass or two that could have sprung teammates in behind, but he controlled the match. He was patient on the ball, which is especially important against a team like Wolves that play so compact. Too often players will get restless, try to force things, and turn the ball over. Partey largely avoided that today. The shooting well over the bar from distance has got to stop, though.

I thought Ben White had a solid game, too. Like Partey, he was calm on the ball and didn’t try to force things. He had one or two nice progressive dribbles. He played strong defensively, too — him rising up well above everybody else to clear Wolves’ final corner sticks out in my mind, which is impressive for a guy who wasn’t supposed to be good in the air. White’s performance was particularly important given the performance from his usually dependable CB partner.

Oh boy was Gabriel bad today. It might have been his worst game of the season. His misplaced and under-hit backpass gifted Wolves their goal, and he made a handful of other poor plays. I’m not concerned about him in the slightest. He just had a bad outing. It happens.

I am a bit more concerned with Kieran Tierney. His touch, passing, and crossing has been off for a while now. Obviously you’ll never question his workrate or desire, but right now, he’s out of form. But we know what he can do when he’s on form — he can be an important contributor to the attack and a dogged defender. It’s just a question of him rediscovering that level.

Alexandre Lacazette was quite poor on the day. He misplaced simple passes to kill attacking moves, got the ball caught in his feet in critical moments, and made multiple wrong decisions in the box. Of course in typical Lacazette fashion, he kept working. In less typical fashion for him (and for Arsenal), he was rewarded for his hard work. The match winner will go down as a Jose Sa own goal, but Lacazette got the final Arsenal touch on the ball.

Neither Lacazette nor Arsenal will care in the slightest. The ball went in. Arsenal won. They claimed 3 critical points that looked as if they’d be dropped. And they’re starting to put some space between themselves and the teams behind them for the Champions League places. That can all change quickly in the Premier League, but as I said earlier, it feels like this Arsenal team may have a little something-something about them. As Lee Dixon said, if I were Arsenal, I’d be looking at Chelsea and that third spot five points ahead.