Football Features

“By the letter of the law he had to go” – Winners and Losers as Leno and Luiz both see red as Wolves beat nine-man Arsenal

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 20:19, 2 February 2021

In an incredible night of football, Wolves ended their winless run by beating nine man Arsenal at Molineux.

This absurd result completed Wolves’ first league double over Arsenal since 1970. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Joao Moutinho

In a game marked predominantly by farcical nonsense, it seems odd that it was settled by a moment of sheer brilliance. With the score at 1-1 and Arsenal only down to 10-men, Joao Moutinho picked the ball up about 25 to 30 yards from goal, saw no one closing him down and so decided to absolutely unleash hell.

The shot was an absolute piledriver. It’s been 15 months since his last Premier League goal but he more than made up for the wait with a strike that would have made team-mate Ruben Neves jealous. This thing flew off his foot like it had been shot out of a cannon and Bernd Leno had absolutely no chance to stop it. You could have had two Bernd Lenos and this thing still would have gone in.

Moutinho won the match but he also created the joint-most chances in the match (2) and played and completed more passes than anyone else in a Wolves shirt. So he was playing well anyway, and then he scored that goal. Amazing display.

Loser: David Luiz

It had to be him, didn’t it? Arsenal were 0-1 up and coasting against Wolves but then David Luiz just had to announce himself in the game. He had been playing well! Both lately in general and specifically in this game. But it’s David Luiz so you know what was coming.

With Willian José running clean through behind the Arsenal defence (after a nice bit of build-up play from Wolves) the Brazilian defender was chasing back and got too close to his compatriot. Ankles clashed and José went down. Penalty give, red card issued.

It seemed harsh, because of course David Luiz wasn’t even trying to do anything. Of course the laws of the game don’t care about intent, stating:

Where a player commits an offence against an opponent within their own penalty area which denies an opponent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and the referee awards a penalty kick, the offender is cautioned if the offence was an attempt to play the ball; in all other circumstances (e.g. holding, pulling, pushing, no possibility to play the ball etc.) the offending player must be sent off.

And the key phrase there is “in all other circumstances” – David Luiz was not attempting to play the ball and he denied Willian José an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. It feels harsh and maybe it is harsh, but by the letter of the law he had to go. His third straight red since re-signing for Arsenal. Oh dear.

Loser: Bernd Leno

You wouldn’t have thought it possible for David Luiz to be upstaged in terms of self-inflicted stupidity, but in a fantastic moment of solidarity for the bedraggled Brazilian, up stepped Bernd Leno.

With the Gunners chasing a 2-1 deficit, Wolves were playing on the break and looking threatening. One such counter saw the ball come over the Arsenal defence and Leno, looking to be proactive, left his line.

Now, goalkeepers sweeping up behind their defence is nothing new, in fact it can be quite good, but Leno definitely misjudged this from the start. Firstly he had enough time that he probably could have waited for the ball to reach inside his area. Had he not been quite so hasty he either could have grabbed it inside the box or at the very least judged the flight better so that he wouldn’t jump past it and be forced to swing his arm at the ball to stop it going past him.

While there was some controversy over David Luiz’s red card, Leno’s was clear as day and reduced Arsenal to nine men, condemning them to defeat and ending their positive run in the most hysterical and tragicomic fashion imaginable. In many ways this was as Arsenal as it gets.

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Winner: Nicolas Pépé

Pépé had floundered since his massive £71m move to Arsenal. Supposedly the goalscoring ball-carrying right-winger the club had long been after, Pépé looked a busted flush and was outplayed by basically every youth teamer Arsenal put out there.

But then Mikel Arteta switched him to left-wing, and counter-intuitively this has brought him to life. Tonight Pépé was strong, skilled and full of purpose and intent. He scored the opening goal, his third consecutive Premier League away game with a goal, with a stunning srike where he drive past two Wolves defenders and cannoned a superb shot into the net off his weak foot.

He may have lost the game, but Pépé showed today that he is going to be just fine in English football.

Winner: Nuno Espirito Santo

Wolves beat Chelsea 2-1 back in December but had been really struggling since then. In fact they hadn’t won a game since then, losing five and drawing three for an utterly miserable winless run. However that all ended today at Molineux.

Sure, Arsenal were the brighter side to begin with, but Wolves fought their way back into the game and from the start of the second-half they had a different energy. Nuno had his men ready for the fight and they were the dominant side after the break even before the second red card reduced the game to a training exercise.

It took six weeks and eight games, but Wolves are finally back to winning ways. With Willian José looking good and Raúl Jimenez on the mend, could their season turn around?

Loser: Mikel Arteta

Since losing to Everton mid-December, Arsenal have transformed their fortunes. A seven game winless run was followed by a seven game run without defeat (five wins and two draws) and the Gunners appeared to be a team on the rise again. He’d figured out the attacking trio, the kids looked good, dead wood had been cut from the squad and Thomas Partey was fit again!

Then came Wolves. But after a bright start where they scored twice (once ruled out for offside) they slowly fell away and allowed Wolves to creep back into the game. And then in the second-half, while they again played well the spectre of unforced and self-inflicted errors haunted them. There was just no need for Leno to do what he did, and the furious way he reacted was bizarre as it was no one’s fault but his own.

Arsenal down to nine men and this made it nine red cards since Mikel Arteta was appointed, three times as many as any other club over the same time span. Arteta will be able to get his players back to winning ways soon, another winless run is unlikely, but he needs to find a way to cut out those defensive errors or Arsenal will never make the next level.