Arsenal 1-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers: The Big Clubs are All in the Giving Mood This Holiday

I was never destined to watch this match today.

Perhaps there are those out there that can watch a whole 90 minutes of a game that they already know the result to. I, on the other hand, categorically cannot. For me, the greatest single aspect of this sport is its equal capacity for drama and for surprise. I do not consume football like a museum piece - I need that adrenaline coursing in the background.

So, the break room TV at work happens to be on ESPN as I'm getting a nice cup of tea, and wouldn't you just know it, the ticker at the bottom shows that it's 1-1. I recognize the pall of inevitability when I see it, so I wasn't shocked that the one time I logged onto Facebook, a friend had posted a status about the same scoreline being the final.

Oh, well.

Thankfully, there is the fantastic and irreplaceable 101 Great Goals. As you might imagine, this report will essentially be my running thoughts as I watch the long-form highlights of the match. Also, I wouldn't normally do ratings, but a reader has helpfully answered my call for submissions on that front, so we'll have guest scores this time around.

Anyway, the starting lineup seems like it was decent enough on paper - Johan Djourou made an early return from injury to slot into the doomed right-back role, while Yossi Benayoun and Tomas Rosicky came into the side in place of Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott. Walcott wasn't so much as on the bench, though I'm not sure if it was due to injury or ill-advised rotation.

The rest of the starting XI consisted of the usual suspects. In a vacuum, this is a side that should have beaten Wolverhampton at home.

That outcome must have seemed likely as early as the eighth minute, when the Gunners took the lead after a fine passage of team play. Rosicky started the move with a flying run down the right, and he cut it into the middle of Benayoun. The Israeli picked out an inch-perfect through-ball to the onrushing Gervinho, who beat what was frankly an awful attempt at an offside trap. Wolves keeper Wayne Hennessey came out, then hesitated. Gervinho easily went around him and slid the ball into the empty net.

Sadly, that would be the only questionable decision Hennessey made on the afternoon.

Half an hour later, the visitors would be level. A long, looping ball into the area was poorly dealt with by Mertesacker, who stood off of it for some reason. Nenad Milijas took the opportunity to play the ball off of him for a corner. The corner was cleared fairly easily, but then a Rube Goldberg series of bounces led to the ball nestling in the far corner of Wojceich Szczesny's net. The clearance came to Stephen Hunt at the edge of the penalty area, and Rosicky risibly and shamefully turned away from him instead of challenging for it. Hunt fired it into the area, but the shot was charged down by three onrushing Arsenal midfielders.

Ninety times out of a hundred, the ball ricochets forward and out of play, and Rosicky would be out of jail for his cowardice. This time, the ball looped backwards into the six-yard box, and the Arsenal center-halves were caught ball-watching. It looked like they may have been trying to play Steven Fletcher offside, but Djourou was about 3-4 yards behind them, and he was level with them anyway. It was an unwelcome return to 2010 Arsenal Defending, and with Mertesacker for some reason drifting yards away, Fletcher was left with a disgracefully uncontested finish.

The Gunners have given up some bad goals this season, but this may have been the stupidest and one of the most preventable. Rosicky and Mertesacker in particular should be ashamed of themselves.

I suppose it could have been worse, and the team could have collapsed from there. Instead, the Gunners apparently bossed the lion's share of the possession and fired a barrage of shots at Hennessey's goal. The highlights don't show any of it though, as they skip right ahead to Milijas getting sent off for a tackle from behind.

In real time, it looked like a hideous challenge...the sort that needs to be stamped out of the game. Having viewed it on the replay though, it looked like it was towards the more vicious end of what should be a yellow card. To me, a booking and a stern word of caution regarding future conduct is all that challenge merited...but honestly, is anyone stunned that the man I've dubbed "Phil Dowd Jr." got it wrong?

Speaking of which, an alternative set of highlights shows Laurent Koscielny trying to play a cross into the penalty area in the 58th minute. The Wolves defender has his arm perpendicular to his body (picture the way the Mexican national side stands at attention for their anthem), and the ball hits him. That is, according to the letter of the law, as stonewall a penalty as you'll ever want to see. I'm sure you're as stunned as I though that Stuart Atwell merely called for the corner kick.

Ten minutes later, Hennessey made a sharp save on Robin van Persie's free kick attempt, doing spectacularly well to tip it over the bar. A minute later, Rosicky's fine cross was met with a thumping header by Mertesacker. The Welsh stopper's positioning and reflexes were impeccable though, and he saved brilliantly with his foot. With eight minutes to go, RVP tested that man again, but this time the save was a tad more routine. There was one more effort from the Dutchman at Hennessey's near post, but he was able to corral it in despite diving the wrong way (an element of luck there, to be sure).

Before I get to the bright side, I find that I once again have to express complete bafflement at Arsene Wenger's substitutions. Benayoun came off in the 63rd, which makes sense given his lack of minutes so far this season. But, that precious half-hour was given to Andrei "Gaping Chest Wound in the Arsenal Attack" Arshavin. WHY? WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY? He has done the square root of fuck all for months now, and this was a game that was crying out for the energy of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Ramsey on for Song in the 71st was more adventurous, so credit where it's due. But, the last change was not made until the 85th, with Marouane Chamakh coming on for Djourou. He hasn't been any better than Arshavin to be fair, but at least he'd be another body in the penalty area for their defense to pay attention to, which may have opened some space for someone in form.

The mind, it boggles.

Anyway, as promised, there is a bright side to all of this. Yeah, it's winnable points that have been dropped at home. But, Wolves have been far friskier and far tougher of an out than they have been previously, and, well, this:

8/13/11 - Liverpool 1-1 Sunderland
8/14/11 - Stoke City 0-0 Chelsea
9/10/11 - Stoke City 1-1 Liverpool
9/14/11 - Benfica 1-1 Manchester United
9/15/11 - PAOK Salonika 0-0 Tottenham Hotspur
9/18/11 - Fulham 2-2 Manchester City
9/20/11 - Stoke City 0-0 Tottenham Hotspur
9/21/11 - Chelsea 0-0 Fulham
9/24/11 - Stoke City 1-1 Manchester United
9/27/11 - Manchester United 3-3 FC Basel
10/5/11 - Liverpool 0-0 Swansea City
10/22/11 - Liverpool 1-1 Norwich City
10/23/11 - Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Chelsea
11/1/11 - Racing Club Genk 1-1 Chelsea
11/22/11 - Manchester United 2-2 Benfica
11/26/11 - Manchester United 1-1 Newcastle United
11/30/11 - Crystal Palace 2-1 Manchester United
11/30/11 - Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 PAOK Salonika
12/5/11 - Fulham 1-0 Liverpool
12/7/11 - FC Basel 2-1 Manchester United
12/11/11 - Stoke City 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur
12/17/11 - Wigan Athletic 1-1 Chelsea
12/21/11 - Wigan Athletic 0-0 Liverpool
12/26/11 - Chelsea 1-1 Fulham
12/26/11 - Liverpool 1-1 Blackburn Rovers
12/26/11 - West Bromwich Albion 0-0 Manchester City

Two things I especially note here:

1. Look at 12/26/11 was a bloodbath of dropped points for the big sides. It's not just us - the Boxing Day fixture program is rough sailing for everyone.

2. Look at how many dropped points Stoke account for on this list...and remember who comfortably beat them 3-1 (at the Emirates though, in fairness).

So, onwards and upwards, friends. The Champions League places are still very much in our sights.

The Modern Gooner (Guest) Player Ratings:

I had requested on the Facebook page some assistance with this section, having not seen the match. However, since only one of you got it in on time, these ratings are entirely the playground of Amy Williamson this week. Thank you again, Amy!

Szczesny 7, Vermaelen 7, Mertesacker 8, Koscielny 7, Djourou 7 (Chamakh N/A), Song 6 (Ramsey N/A), Arteta 7, Gervinho 9, Benayoun 9 (Arshavin 4), Rosicky 8, van Persie 6

Man of the Match: Yossi Benayoun (Sean's note: It WAS a wonderful pass for the assist...)