Wolves steady the ship with comeback win over nine-man Arsenal

David Luiz and Bernd Leno are both sent off on a miserable night for Mikel Arteta’s side

David Luiz is shown a red card during Arsenal’s defeat to Wolves. Photograph: Nick Potts/Getty/AFP

David Luiz is shown a red card during Arsenal’s defeat to Wolves. Photograph: Nick Potts/Getty/AFP

 

Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 Arsenal 1

When confidence is shot, a leg-up can change everything. That was the case for Wolves, who were being overrun by Arsenal before seeing events swing dramatically in their favour just before half-time. They were behind to Nicolas Pépé’s 32nd-minute goal and lucky not to be in even greater distress, but then came the decision that enabled their first win in nine league games. Rúben Neves’ penalty was perfectly justifiable but the red card David Luiz received for its concession will dominate the analysis.

Wolves promptly took the points with a glorious long-range screamer from João Moutinho and Arsenal despaired further when Bernd Leno was also dismissed 18 minutes from time. It became the worst of nights for Mikel Arteta when, for half of the game, his team had shown fresh evidence that their improvement is no fluke.

Arsenal had ripped through Wolves during the opening period but the home side went in level, Neves sending Leno the wrong way before Craig Pawson blew for half-time. David Luiz could count himself deeply unlucky: he had not offered any challenge when pursuing Willian José to a through ball from Daniel Podence, his knee sending the striker over with an accidental clip. A VAR review backed up Pawson’s decision to send him off but exactly how anyone, not least the Stockley Park official, Jonathan Moss, could deem the foul careless, reckless or excessively forceful – as per the rulebook – seemed unfathomable.

Before that point, Wolves’ attackers could feel thankful they had a chance to rescue the game. Pépé’s goal was a monument to their recent defensive fragility. He does not have a reputation for being the most tenacious competitor but, robbing Nelson Semedo on Wolves’ right flank, set Arsenal on the front foot.

Joao Moutinho celebrates scoring Wolves’ winner against Arsenal. Photograhp: Catherine Ivill/Getty/AFP
Joao Moutinho celebrates scoring Wolves’ winner against Arsenal. Photograhp: Catherine Ivill/Getty/AFP

While Semedo recovered he was embarrassed when Pépé nutmegged him, stumbling in vain hope of a foul while play continued. Neves was Pépés next opponent but met the same fate, the ball slipped between his legs via a ricochet. It was powderpuff resistance and set Pépé up to whip a finish, on his weaker right foot, past Rui Patrício. Make no mistake: it was stellar work from a player who is showing signs he can plug into Arteta’s demands. For Wolves, though, it felt a world away from the rigour that has taken them so far.

They had only held out that long because of Bukayo Saka’s ill luck. Only 34 seconds had passed when the forward, getting the wrong side of Max Kilman, burst down the inside-right channel but sliced against Patrício’s far post. Soon he was back, making the keeper save a snap shot, and then came the biggest disappointment of all. Saka swept a brilliant first-time finish beyond Patrício in the 10th minute but VAR ruled Alexandre Lacazette, who teed him up, had strayed offside by a toe’s length.

It left Wolves feeling relieved even before Neves equalised and they capitalised upon their reprieve. They began the second half with predictable eagerness and Moutinho crowned it with a beauty. From Arsenal’s perspective, one of Thomas Partey or Saka should have been out more quickly to Moutinho when he took possession 30 yards out. But it still required perfection to score from there and the veteran delivered it, beating Leno with a vicious, rising blast that cannoned in off his right-hand post.

Arsenal were no longer having fun on a filthy, sodden night. Arteta had attempted to plug the David Luiz-shaped hole by introducing Gabriel at the interval and, while the substitute denied Pedro Neto a third with a last-ditch tackle, they now needed to find a new way of exposing Wolves’ soft centre. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had missed the previous three games, was deployed in place of Pépé upon the hour but the evening’s tenor had transformed. - Guardian

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