I honestly think we were the better side against Arsenal last night. Not “just about” the better side, but the better side by some distance. That was evidenced by the way that The Gunners started using time-wasting tactics with about half an hour of the game left. But despite that, the truth is we never really looked like scoring, and if you don’t score goals, you’re not going to win football matches.
And what’s frustrating is that when you look at the stats, we beat Arsenal in all the major attacking areas—possession, shots, shots on target & corners—but my reaction when the commentator announced Arsenal would have to endure five minutes of stoppage time was along the lines of “Doesn’t matter, we could play twenty minutes of stoppage time and still not score.”
Just before Arsenal’s 25-minute goal, I thought Wolves were in control and looked the far more comfortable team. We were keeping the ball well, passing it around nicely and working the wide areas. But we had the same issue we’ve had all season—and that we’ve had for most of last season too in truth—which is that we seem to run out of ideas around the 20-yard line. We have some terrific tricky players who can run with the ball, who can dribble and get past players, but they never seem to do this and break into the box where being a tricky little bastard can actually hurt your opponents.
The goal we conceded was awful but I suspect that had it been in the Arsenal—or any of the other “big six”—it would have been a foul on the goalkeeper.
These things are sent to try us.
And as much as I think that was a terrible bit of refereeing, Michael Oliver did produce one of the best bits of refereeing I’ve seen in a long time in the second half with the double-booking of Martinelli. There’s a lot of “controversy” about this, mainly because it’s not something you see very often. But that’s because there aren’t many players stupid enough to commit two cautionable offences in such quick succession.
The initial offence, a push on Danny P ad he took the throw, was definitely a yellow card and had Oliver awarded a free-kick there no one would have questioned it. But he let play continue because the attacking team had an advantage with the intention of booking the player after play stops.
The problem was that the second offence, which also definitely was a yellow card, was committed by the same player. Again, if it had been another player then Oliver would have booked both and no one would have questioned it.
So was booking the same player twice for two separate yellow-card offences in the same passage of play the correct decision? Yes, of course, it was. And it was good refereeing to go through with it.
The game did change after the sending off, but even though Wolves were even more dominant of the ball and threw everything they had at Arsenal, we still never looked like scoring. Not really. The best we could have hoped for was an Arsenal mistake or collapse and neither of those happened.
I think the game summed up pretty much where were are right now. A good team but lacking a real cutting edge that makes a good team a great team.
I hope we find it soon before a season full of promise becomes a season of wasted opportunity.