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. Wolves, who have been so impressive against the Premier League’s top six this season, added another scalp to their collection with a resounding win that raises major questions about Arsenal’s ability to secure a top-four finish.
Inspired by the outstanding Diogo Jota, who would later leave the field to a standing ovation, Wolves tore Arsenal apart during a devastating 19-minute spell 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 rampant Wolves side. Bernd Leno hardly covered himself in glory with his goalkeeping on the second and third Wolves goals, although in truth there were poor Arsenal performances all over the pitch.
Unai Emery took responsibility for the result – “I was angry with me, we didn’t do the game-plan like I want,” said the Arsenal manager – but, deep down, the Spaniard must have been desperately disappointed with his players, too. They looked horribly disjointed at times in the first half and vulnerable whenever Wolves seized possession and broke in numbers.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos pulled a goal back 10 minutes from time, but the damage had long been done on an evening when Arsenal suffered back-to-back league defeats for the first time since their opening two fixtures of the season. “We lost the possibility to have [Champions League qualification] in our hands but we can recover,” said Emery, who made seven changes to the side that lost against Palace, including dropping Shkodran Mustafi.
For Wolves, this was another special evening under the lights at Molineux. A first top-flight win over Arsenal in 17 attempts, going back to 1979, means that Nuno Espírito Santo’s side are now up to seventh place in the table, opening the door to the prospect of qualification for the Europa League. “It was a good performance against a top team,” said Nuno, who is a man of few words.
His team are much more expressive and a joy to watch at times. They have now collected 16 points against the Premier League’s top six, which is a remarkable return in their first season back at this level. With a visit to Anfield to come on the final day, it is possible they could yet increase that tally.
Jota was the spark for the purple patch that saw Wolves take control of this game. 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 Jiménez lifted a shot inches 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 broke into the Arsenal half and released Jonny Castro Otto, who was brought down by Nacho Monreal about 25 yards from goal. 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 following a short corner and delivered an inswinging cross that Doherty glanced over the head of the stranded Leno, who had come to punch but was caught in no man’s land.
Desperately needing the interval to regroup, Arsenal then conceded with almost the last kick of the first half. A loose pass from Granit Xhaka, deep inside his own half, granted Jota the chance to run at the Arsenal defence again. 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 absent because of a “small sinus procedure”, Emery’s attacking options to try to get back into the game were limited. Sead Kolasinac and Mattéo Guendouzi replaced Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lucas Torreira, yet it was Wolves who came closest to scoring again through Jiménez. By the time Papastathopoulos did reduce the deficit by heading in a corner, it was little consolation to Arsenal.