Sometimes, when you’re played off the park, you can hold your hands up and agree that it wasn’t your day. Today was not that day.
Today Arsenal were robbed of victory by a series of farcical decisions, misfortunes, and downright gut punches, and that is a bitter pill to swallow.
Let’s not mince words: Wolves were shit. They were disjointed, lacking confidence and rudderless. Arsenal, by contrast, were excellent. From the first whistle we were on top of them and, but for the width of the post, would have found ourselves ahead in the first minute. A VAR-disallowed goal and another piece of woodwork misfortune later and we still managed to take the lead through Nicolas Pepe. Simply put, we were in total control and playing some of our best football of the season.
What nobody could have reckoned with was a series of game-changing decisions that, in effect, handed a huge advantage to struggling Wolves that they duly seized on.
Even now, just a few hours after the final whistle, what more can be said of the penalty and red card shown to David Luiz?
We live in an era of football now which sees any form of contact result in a penalty. The merest flick of a knee, initiated entirely by the attacking player, is awarded a spot kick and the defender is handed a straight red. As soon as the resulting penalty was put away, our race was run. Unlike the hosts, there was no VAR to save us. Has there been at any point this season?
Despite a reshuffle at the break and plenty of good intent, Arsenal were punched squarely in the gut shortly after the restart. Lacking any options and with a wall of closing players in front of him, Joao Moutinho took a punt from 35 yards because, frankly, there was nothing else he could have done. Of course, having already been boosted by the red card, it was no surprise when that one in 10,000 shot found a the top corner of the net.
From that point, it felt as though the outcome was inevitable. Having played only 72 hours earlier, and already down to 10, Arsenal looked knackered in midfield and the angles they had found so easily in the first half were no longer available.
Bernd Leno’s ludicrous handball was a costly lapse from the German, not because it resulted in a goal but because he will now miss games and that will mean one of our best players is sidelined amid a fiendishly difficult run and our replacements for him are, at best, shaky.
The final 20 minutes of the match proved largely pointless as Wolves proved unable and unwilling to go for a third goal and Arsenal seemed determined to pass across the back line instead of play long, which would have seemed to me a much better tactic.
That said, it’s difficult to blame the team for what was a victory denied. My only hope is that the mental and physical impact of such a defeat doesn’t hamper them at the weekend when they face a much sterner test at Aston Villa. Minutes are piling up for some tired legs and the toll of chasing shadows for 45 minutes, combined with some truly sickening bad luck, will be difficult to shake off.
This is an especially tough defeat to take because the team played so well. The progress made since Christmas has been palpable of late and our first-half efforts felt like a big stride forward. It felt like a team finally coming together. To have that snatched away in farcical fashion is beyond the pale.