Gabriel bundles Arsenal past Wolves despite Martinelli’s remarkable red card

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Same old Arsenal. This year may still be in its relative infancy but after a fourth red card in six matches the most alarming tally for Mikel Arteta concerns not the goals scored or against column but rather discipline.

On this occasion Gabriel Martinelli’s dismissal did not impact the outcome, as Gabriel’s first-half tap-in was enough to secure a first win in six games. But if there was an episode that epitomised a naivety that threatens to undermines Arteta’s attempt to restore Arsenal to the Champions League, it arrived with 21 minutes left to play. Arsenal had Wolves at arm’s length but Martinelli picked up two yellow cards in a matter of seconds – the first for obstructing a throw-in and the second for a hot-headed trip on Chiquinho – to ensure a nervy crescendo.

Arsenal had already tested Michael Oliver’s patience, seemingly intent on mastering the dark arts. Bruno Lage threw a pair of gloves to the floor in anger as Arsenal stifled an attack down the right. Gabriel, who scored after feasting on the leftovers of a recycled corner, was guilty of time-wasting and the Arsenal captain, Alexandre Lacazette, proved a nuisance throughout and spurned a chance to double their advantage, placing a shot wide after beating the offside trap.

Gabriel Martinelli sees red after receiving two quickfire yellow cards.
Gabriel Martinelli sees red after receiving two quickfire yellow cards. Photograph: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Oliver had barely put his cards away when he reached for his back pocket to send Martinelli off. Lage was apoplectic but Arteta was critical of the referee, insisting he wants answers from the officials on their spate of cards. “Very worrying,” Arteta said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen a red card like this in 18 years that I’ve been in this league. I think you have to be pretty willing to give a red card in that situation. But still it happened. We know that playing with 10 men in this league you’re not going to get points, enough points … and we have to stop it.”

For Arsenal, a welcome win lifts them to fifth and temporarily dampens Wolves’ hopes of reaching the top four, ending their three-game Premier League winning streak. There is an argument that Arteta’s agitated nature on the touchline transmits to his players on the pitch. At one point in the first half the Arsenal managed raced out of his technical area to cajole four players – Martinelli, the fit-again Cédric Soares, Martin Ødegaard and Kieran Tierney – into hounding Daniel Podence. The reality is that Martinelli’s sending-off made life more difficult than it needed to be. Wolves bombarded the Arsenal box with 35 crosses in total but were blunt in attack, though the red card gave them encouragement. Fábio Silva replaced the captain, Conor Coady, with nine minutes to play as Lage searched for a leveller but Wolves were left frustrated.

After a dry January – Arsenal picked up three red cards and were sent packing in both domestic cup competitions – Arteta recognised the need to reignite their season, especially given Wolves are among those in the conversation for a top-four berth. Thomas Partey returned to the base of the Arsenal midfield alongside Granit Xhaka. Until Coady blocked a Ben White shot, a Wolves defence that welcomed back Romain Saïss – whose collar was embroidered with the name of Rayan Awram, the five-year-old boy who tragically lost his life in northern Morocco last week – appeared typically obdurate; only Manchester City have conceded fewer top-flight goals this season. But Arsenal took the lead when Lacazette beat José Sá to the ball and flicked on for Gabriel to convert.

Wolves’ final ball repeatedly let them down as attacks fizzled out but once Martinelli departed they upped the pressure. White cleared off the line from Chiquinho after Raúl Jiménez hooked a ball back into the box and Aaron Ramsdale tipped a Leander Dendoncker header on to the roof his net.

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Wolves will move on to Tottenham on Sunday hoping to reapply the heat on those above them. Arsenal, meanwhile, will nurse another suspension and push a lean squad to the limit. “They did everything I asked,” Lage said. “We were there in the final third. We had plenty of chances to score. It is not new, especially at home, to have some nights like this.”

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