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Wolves 0 Arsenal 3 - match analysis

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This space is usually reserved for a match report. This will be more difficult than usual because there was no match on which to report.

This space is usually reserved for a match report. This will be more difficult than usual because there was no match on which to report.

Not after nine minutes away. That was when Arsenal were awarded a penalty and Wolves were reduced to 10 men with the red card shown to Sebastien Bassong for his fateful challenge on Theo Walcott.

The rights and wrongs of those two decisions by referee Neil Swarbrick can be debated all night but the end result was around 25,000 Wolves fans forced to endure 80 minutes of fruitless combat by a team already battered and bruised by this season's ravages.

That they reached the finishing line to a warm ovation and having shipped only two more goals almost amounted to a moral victory for Terry Connor's team – and they will take any kind of win they can lay their hands on at the moment.

But a match? No. A kind of training ground, shadow-session maybe but not a match. Swarbrick's ruthless application of the letter of the laws which are entangling football in an increasingly baffling sequence of injustices and inconsistencies took care of that and the game has to ask itself whether Bassong's 'crime' was so heinous it deserved to deprive the hard-pressed paying public of its right to expect some kind of contest.

Of course Arsenal would most likely have beaten Wolves anyway. Of course refereeing decisions are not the reason why this floundering team will be relegated or Manchester United crowned champions. But there is an imbalance abroad which the authorities need to seriously study before more and more punters resent parting with their cash for games made lop-sided by the equivalent of red-tape officiating.

That said, well done Wolves for an effort which deservedly drew acclaim at the final whistle from those hardy souls who stayed to the bitter end. It can't be much fun staring at 80 minutes against one of Europe's best possession teams a goal down and a man short but they tackled the dispiriting challenge with dignity and application.

And in the performances of Matt Jarvis, Michael Kightly, Karl Henry, Kevin Doyle and more there were traces of the old spirit and drive which has faded so alarmingly and so damagingly this season.

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That they forced from Wojciech Szczesny the two best saves of the night was to their enormous credit. That they finished the evening pressing for a consolation goal was a further tribute to their energy and willingness.

That Arsenal were guilty of over-elaboration, in sharp contrast to the way United so ruthlessly dismantled Wolves when given a similar challenge against 10-men last month, undoubtedly helped and told its own story about the Gunners failure to press more seriously for the title.

This has become a season in which Wolves fans have grown accustomed to grabbing at the flimsiest silver lining while the storm clouds have descended on Molineux. But they need something more than commendable defiance in the face of the overwhelming certainty of their fate and that is now, surely, not far off.

Should their relegation rivals – if we can still call them that – continue to win, Wolves relegation could be confirmed by Monday in which case the club can at last publicly start planning for a way back from this dreadful down-turn and not before time.

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They were shunted ever closer to the trapdoor waiting to parachute them back to the Championship by Arsenal's opening thrust which saw Walcott's give-and-go with Robin Van Persie draw the decisive contact from Bassong as the England player darted into the area.

Swarbrick was probably right in determining both a penalty and, under the precise definition of a player being denied a goalscoring opportunity, Bassong's red card - although the consensus was there was enough doubt in the second to keep the defender on the pitch.

But those are the breaks that go missing when you are at the foot of the table. And Van Persie's execution of the penalty – one of those little 'dinks' down the centre as Wayne Hennessey moved to his right – spoke of the confidence his team felt about the advantage they were about to enjoy.

The South Bank took out its frustrations on Connor for immediately taking the unfortunate David Davis from midfield and bringing on Christophe Berra although the cries of 'you don't know what you're doing' lacked logic.

But the anger soon turned to gallows humour when Walcott sped through on to another Van Persie pass to score the second two minutes later.

After that, they warmed to their team's resistance and enjoyed particularly the splendid efforts of Jarvis and Kightly to carry the fight to Arsenal which but for an outstanding save from Szczesny to deny Kevin Doyle's header would have seen Wolves dare to pull back a goal.

But a couple of minutes later, Arsenal's third arrived, driven home by Yossi Benayoun leaving room for one final note of defiance from Wolves as substitute Nenad Milijas closed the game forcing Szczesny to palm away a goal-bound drive.

Wolves left the pitch with a seventh successive defeat matching the worst run of results in the relegation season of 1981-82.

It might be some consolation that the Bhatti Brothers are not on the horizon this time. But not much.

By Martin Swain

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