By Richard Clarke at Molineux
Arsenal eased five points clear of fourth-place Tottenham with a comfortable 3-0 win at Wolves on Wednesday night.
This game was won in the first 11 minutes. First the galloping Theo Walcott was brought down in the area by Sebastien Bassong. Robin van Persie dispatched the penalty (his first Premier League goal in 444 minutes of football) and the Wolves defender was sent off.
Then, a couple of minutes later, Walcott lashed home a second from the edge of the area.
After that, Arsenal had control of the game. Wolves battled on manfully but they are struggling for form and their Premier League status right now.
Aside from Wojciech Szczesny’s admittedly stunning save from Kevin Doyle’s header, they created little before Yossi Benayoun killed any chance of a comeback by firing home from the edge of the area in the 69th minute.
The rest of the game was played out with an eerie ease.
Arsenal’s record now goes to nine wins in their last 10 games. They are fast closing in on an automatic spot in next season’s Champions League.
Wenger made three changes from the side that had outplayed Manchester City on Sunday – two were enforced, one was rotation.
Wolves were on a woeful run having taken one point out of a possible 24. Only 18 more were available and Terry Connor’s side were six from safety.
The survival numbers just did not add up and, inside 11 minutes this evening, the arithmetic got much, much worse.
In the ninth minute, Van Persie sent Walcott clear. The England winger muscled his way past Bassong and was bundled over as he shaped to shoot. It was a clear penalty and, by the letter of the law, a sending off.
Van Persie calmly dinked the penalty over Wayne Hennessey in Panenka style. The Dutchman was clearly running with chilled blood in his veins this evening given the goal ended a run of four Premier League games without scoring – a veritable ice age for one of the top flight’s hottest players this season.
Wolves were rattled and had not recovered by the time Walcott doubled the visitors’ advantage two minutes later. Van Persie’s flick sent the 23-year-old through and he rifled home his ninth Premier League goal of the season.
The brace killed the contest for the remainder of the first half. Wolves were bang out of form before this game; down by two goals and one man was never going to be a recoverable position.
Benayoun saw a shot deflected wide and Andre Santos had a go from distance. But Arsenal limited their ambitions to containment.
They had everything they needed; all they had to do was keep it.
Bolstered by a boisterous crowd, Wolves tried to up their game. Christophe Berra’s header deflected narrowly wide from Michael Kightly’s corner while Ronald Zubar’s storming ended with a dangerous ball across the face of goal.
However, Szczesny was not troubled.
There was a little more impetus about Arsenal at the start of the second half. Ramsey saw a shot blocked and then set up Vermaelen for a header at the far post, only for Zubar to intervene.
Then Arteta darted into the area and set up Van Persie at the near post. The Dutchman hooked his effort a yard wide.
Arsenal were on top but Wolves had not given up the ghost. Just before the hour, Jarvis jinked himself some space on the left and crossed to the far post. Doyle evaded his marker and seemed to have guided his header into the far corner – only for Szczesny’s big right hand to bat the ball aside at the last second.
The Pole has had an impressive season but that was one of his best saves.
Seconds later, Doyle whipped in a cross that skimmed the head of the onrushing Jarvis.
Wolves were pressing in search of a lifeline. However, they soon found themselves 3-0 down.
Van Persie stole the ball in midfield and released Song on the left. He cut the ball back for Benayoun just outside the area. The Israeli fired home his first Arsenal goal since that late winner at Aston Villa just before Christmas.
Benayoun nearly snaffled another straight away then, 15 minutes from time, Ramsey’s shot was blocked at the near post.
The third goal had knocked the stuffing out of Wolves but they would rally in dying minutes.
Substitute Steven Fletcher fired wide and Nenad Milijas forced another stunning save from Szczesny.
It preserved Arsenal’s fourth clean sheet in their last five games.
Wenger’s men march on.