Wolves 3 Arsenal 1
The script has become a familiar one in this part of the Black Country, yet Arsenal played as though they never knew what was coming. Wolverhampton Wanderers, who have been so impressive against the Premier League’s top six this season, added another scalp to their collection with a resounding victory that raises major questions about Arsenal’s ability to secure a top-four finish.
Inspired by the outstanding Diogo Jota, who covered just about every blade of grass and left the field to a standing ovation in the second half, Wolves tore Arsenal apart with a devastating 19-minute spell of attacking football in the first half that yielded all three goals. Ruben Neves scored the first with a glorious free-kick, Matt Doherty headed in the second and Jota dispatched the third on the stroke of half-time.
Arsenal looked shellshocked. Their defending in the 3-2 home defeat against Crystal Palace on Sunday was awful and those frailties were once again exposed by a Wolves side that has collected a remarkable 16 points against the top six clubs this season. Bernd Leno hardly covered himself in glory with his goalkeeping for the second and third Wolves goals, although in truth there were poor Arsenal performances all over the pitch.
Not that any of that will matter to Wolves. This was a first top-flight win over Arsenal in 17 attempts, going back to 1979, and Nuno Espírito Santo’s side are now up to seventh in the table, still chasing the possibility of qualification for the Europa League next season. Arsenal, who pulled a goal back through Sokratis Papastathopoulos 10 minutes from time, remain fifth and, after suffering back-to-back defeats in the space of four days, their trip to Leicester on Sunday has an ominous feel.
The Arsenal manager, Unai Emery, made seven changes to his starting XI, including dropping Shkodran Mustafi, yet the visitors were in a state of disarray come the interval, three goals behind.
Jota was the spark for a purple patch that saw Wolves take control of the game midway through the first half. Full of running, the Portuguese lifted his teammates and the home supporters by winning the ball deep inside his own half and setting off on a driving run that took him past several Arsenal players. Ultimately, the move came to nothing, but the mood in the stadium shifted.
Wolves were suddenly alive. João Moutinho curled narrowly wide and Raúl Jimenez, reacting quickest to Willy Boly’s flick on, lifted a shot from no more than six-yards over the bar. Arsenal, after dominating possession without looking like scoring in the opening 20 minutes, appeared vulnerable. Wolves sensed it and ruthlessly took advantage.
Jota, with another of those darting runs from deep, broke into the Arsenal half and released Jonny Castro Otto, who was brought down about 25 yards from goal by Nacho Monreal. Neves stood over the ball and after a short and straight run-up struck a wonderful free-kick that dipped wickedly after clearing the wall and found the corner of the net.
Nine minutes later it was 2-0 after some abysmal Arsenal defending. Jonny, under no pressure from any Arsenal player, received the ball from Moutinho and delivered an inswinging cross that Doherty glanced over the head of Leno, who had come to punch but was caught in no man’s land.
Arsenal were reeling and things were about to get worse for them. Desperately needing the interval to regroup, they conceded with almost the last kick of the first half. A loose pass from Granit Xhaka in the centre of the pitch, granted Jota the chance to run at the Arsenal defence again – an invitation he accepted with relish. After skipping past Papastathopoulos with embarrassing ease, Jota hit a low angled shot that seemed to go under Leno’s left arm.
With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left out of the squad because of a "small sinus procedure", Emery's attacking options to try to get Arsenal back into the game were limited. Sead Kolasinac and Mattéo Guendouzi replaced Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lucas Torreira shortly before the hour-mark, yet it was Wolves who came closest to scoring again. Jiménez, set up by Jonny, profligately blazed wide. At the other end, Ryan Bennett's superb block denied Alexandre Lacazette a certain goal before Papastathopoulos, heading in a corner at the far post, reduced the deficit. It was little consolation to Arsenal.