Thursday, 12 April 2012

Arsenal Close In On A Third place Finish By Beating Wolves 3-0

Arsenal made the trip to Wolves last night to play against a team that look to doomed relegation from the Premier League this season. With both Spurs and Chelsea dropping points there was a real opportunity for Arsenal to open up a gap in the fight for third place.

Arsene Wenger made three changes from the team that beat Manchester City 1-0 on Sunday. With Kieran Gibbs injured and Laurent Koscielny suspended it meant Andre Santos and Johan Djourou played from the start in defence. The other change was the inclusion of Aaron Ramsey in midfield, as Tomas Rosicky was left on the bench.

I can only imagine Rosicky was a little fatigued after his efforts against City on Sunday. The Arsenal team was still more than strong enough to play against a team that had lost their last six games, and conceded 70 Premier League goals so far this season. The slim chance for Wolves to stay in the Premier League is fading fast, and they needed to take all three points from Arsenal.

It didn't take long for Arsenal to take the lead, and the first goal killed the game as a contest too. Robin van Persie played Theo Walcott in, and he was hauled down from behind by Sebastien Bassong. The referee gave Arsenal a penalty, and Bassong was given a red card too.

I thought the red card was a little harsh, but it was definitely a penalty. RVP stepped up to cheekily clip the ball straight down the middle with Wayne Hennessey committed to his dive. With less than 10 minutes gone Arsenal had a 1-0 lead, and 10 man Wolves had a mountain to climb.

Only a couple of minutes later Arsenal increased their lead through another combination between RVP and Walcott. They played an excellent one-two, and Walcott raced through to finish well past Hennessey. It looked like Wolves could be on the end of a real hammering, but they managed to hold on until half time.

Arsenal did manage to add a third goal in the second half when Yossi Benayoun finished from just outside the box with 20 minutes left after an Alex Song pull back. Wolves were never going to come back from 3-0 down, but they tried their best for the rest of the game. Arsenal probably should have scored more, and Ramsey missed the best of their chances.

I was very impressed with the performance of Wojciech Szczesny, as he made two very good saves in the match. It may not sound like a lot, but he had little else to do and still managed to keep his concentration. All too often in the recent past Arsenal goalkeepers have shut off when they have had little to do, but Szczesny was on top of his game when he needed to be.

The result leaves Arsenal five points clear of both Spurs and Newcastle with five games left to play. Chelsea are a further two points back, and Arsenal will play again before any of them do. That game for Arsenal is next Monday night at home to relegation threatened Wigan, but it will be far from easy.

Wigan have looked very good in recent weeks, and they beat league leaders Manchester United 1-0 last night. It was a thoroughly deserved victory, and they will be full of confidence coming to Arsenal next week. I admire the way Roberto Martinez has Wigan playing and I hope they avoid relegation, but hopefully Arsenal can get another three points.

If they can take the three points I think third place will be almost sewn up, as they will have an eight point lead over their nearest challengers. Arsenal's home form has been excellent in the past few months, and a continuation of that form will surely be enough for them.

It's been a topsy turvy season for Arsenal, but it seems more than likely that it will finish well for them. Third place would guarantee automatic qualification for the group stages of next season's Champions League, and after the season Arsenal have had I consider that an achievement. It might have been nice to have had a real run in the FA Cup too, but I'll settle for a top three finish.

The current squad has an awful lot of potential, and a couple of top class additions could be what the club needs to make a real challenge next season. There's money available to spend on those players, as long as the club can identify the players they need. It may not be easy to convince them to join, but a Champions League place will surely make it easier.

The future looks bright at the moment, and very few people would have imagined that when Arsenal made such a poor start to the season.   

That's it for today.

Here's the highlights from last night's game.

See you tomorrow.

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