Match statistics: Wolves 0-1 Arsenal
It wasn’t the prettiest but this was a huge win for Arsenal and Mikel Arteta.
With everything that had gone on throughout January, and with the knives being sharpened after the decision to let Pierre-Emerick leave without bringing in a replacement, it felt like there was little room for error against a Wolves side who went into the game just two points behind them in the Premier League.
Manchester United drawing at Burnley and Tottenham losing at home to Southampton added even more significance to the result at Molineux, so it was no wonder to see Arsenal celebrate the way they did after their battling 1-0 success.
If they are to go on and secure a top four spot at the end of the season they will have to play far better than they did to claim this much-needed victory, but that will not concern Arteta or his players on the way back down to London.
After a winless January, it was all about the result, not the performance.
And thanks to Gabriel’s close-range finish on 25 minutes, they got the win they desperately needed to move up to fifth in the Premier League, just one point behind fourth-placed West Ham with two games in hand.
All the talk ahead of kick-off had centred around Arsenal’s January transfer business and the club’s decision to seemingly weaken the squad, rather than strengthen it.
Arteta admitted he was well aware of the scrutiny that decision would come under should things go wrong over the coming months, so he would have known the importance of starting off with a win after the mid-season break.
And you could see what the result meant to him at full-time, although that would have been down to relief more than anything else after watching his side once again reduced to 10 men.
Arsenal received three red cards in their five games throughout January, something their manager admitted they cannot afford to do if they want to stay in the race for the Champions League.
So the sight of Gabriel Martinelli receiving two yellow cards in the space of a few seconds midway through the second half would have left him seething.
Arsenal’s disciplinary record under the Spaniard has been appalling and that can’t continue if they are to keep pace with the other sides competing for a top-four spot.
But to their credit, they showed real resolve to hold on away from home under real pressure to claim such an important three points.
Gabriel and Ben White were exceptional once again at centre-back, while Aaron Ramsdale pulled off a couple of fine stops as the hosts laid siege to the visitors’ goal late on.
Things could have been far more comfortable for Arsenal had Alexandre Lacazette taken one of the chances that came his way.
With Aubameyang now gone, there are plenty of questions being asked as to whether the Frenchman can score the goal Arteta’s side will need during the run-in.
And he will have done little to silence his doubters with a couple of big misses on Thursday night.
One came in the first half when he fired straight at Jose Sa after some superb play by Bukayo Saka and another came moments after Martinelli had been sent off.
Having been sent clear by Gabriel’s through ball, Lacazette had time to steady himself. But he could only fire wide with just the Wolves keeper to beat.
Fortunately, the misses didn’t cost Arsenal on this occasion, but that is the type of profligacy Arsenal can’t afford from their one remaining senior striker.
For now, however, that will not concern Arteta.
Before Arsenal’s visit to Wolves, the Spaniard said his team had 17 cup finals left this season. One down, 16 to go.
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