When confidence soars, one boost can change everything. That was the case for the Wolves, who were being invaded by Arsenal before events turned dramatically in their favor just before the break. They were behind Nicolas Pépé’s goal in the 32nd minute and lucky not to be even more distraught, but then came the decision that allowed their first win in nine league games. Rúben Neves’ penalty was perfectly justified but the red card that David Luiz received for his concession will dominate the analysis.
The wolves quickly took the points with a glorious long-range screech from João Moutinho and Arsenal became even more desperate when Bernd Leno was also sent off with 18 minutes remaining. It turned into the worst night for Mikel Arteta when, during the middle of the game, his team had shown new evidence that their improvement was no accident.
Arsenal had trashed the Wolves during the first period, but the home team tied, Neves sent Leno down the wrong path before Craig Pawson failed at halftime. David Luiz could be considered deeply unfortunate: he had not offered any challenge by chasing Willian José to a pass from Daniel Podence, his knee sent the forward with an accidental clip. A VAR review backed Pawson’s decision to fire him, but exactly how anyone, not least Stockley Park official Jonathan Moss, might view the foul as careless, reckless or overly forceful, according to the rulebook, seemed unfathomable.
Before that point, the Wolf attackers could feel grateful that they had the opportunity to rescue the game. Pépé’s goal was a monument to his recent defensive fragility. He doesn’t have a reputation as the toughest competitor, but by stealing Nelson Semedo on the Wolves’ right flank, he put Arsenal in the lead.
As Semedo recovered, he was embarrassed when Pépé hit him with nutmeg, tripping over the vain hope of fouling as the game continued. Neves was Pépés’ next rival, but he suffered the same fate, the ball slipped between his legs through a rebound. It was the resistance of the gunpowder and prepared Pépé to finish off, with his weaker right foot, passing Rui Patrício. Make no mistake: it was stellar work from a gamer who is showing signs that he can connect with Arteta’s demands. For the Wolves, however, it felt a world away from the rigor that has brought them so far.
They had only held out so long due to Bukayo Saka’s bad luck. Only 34 seconds had passed when the forward, hitting the wrong side of Max Kilman, exploded through the right inside channel but cut Patrício’s far post. Soon he was back, making the goalkeeper save a quick shot, and then came the biggest disappointment of all. Saka smashed a brilliant opening shot past Patrício in the 10th minute, but VAR ruled that Alexandre Lacazette, who attacked him, had drifted offside by a toe’s distance.
It left the Wolves feeling relieved even before Neves tied and took advantage of his reprieve. They began the second part with a predictable eagerness and Moutinho crowned it with beauty. From Arsenal’s perspective, one of Thomas Partey or Saka should have gone faster to Moutinho when he took possession 30 yards. But it still required perfection to score from there and the veteran delivered, beating Leno with a violent upward flurry that slammed into his right post.
Arsenal no longer had fun on a dirty and soggy night. Arteta had tried to plug the hole in the form of David Luiz by introducing Gabriel at half-time and, while the substitute denied Pedro Neto a third with a last-minute tackle, now they needed to find a new way to expose the Wolves’ soft center. . Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had missed the previous three games, replaced Pépé at the hour, but the tenor of the night had been transformed.
It turned into a nightmare when Leno ran out of his area as Adama Traoré chased a long pass and, perhaps outmatched by the rebound on the wet surface, knocked it out of the game with his right arm. He left and that was indeed that, even if Aubameyang saw late effort blocked. The wolves’ change of course was complete.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism