Van Persie's double vision restores focus

Arsenal 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0: Striker's spectacular volley puts Arsenal in good heart for Barça showdown
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The Independent Football

Three points, no injuries and a focused performance. This was just what Arsène Wenger wanted ahead of Wednesday's Champions' League tie against you-know-who. Robin van Persie, who scored a goal in each half to keep Arsenal on Manchester United's heels, did hold an ice pack to his leg after being substituted, but that was merely to limit the swelling caused by a kick from Ronald Zubar. He will be fit to face Barcelona. So, said Wenger, might be Samir Nasri who "has a chance" of playing some part.

Of yesterday Wenger said: "We played an outstanding game with the number of chances we created and the quality of our game. We were defensively solid which was important after conceding four goals last week. The only regret is we did not score enough goals, but that is down to their goalkeeper.

"We play the best team in the world next so it is important to go into the game with confidence and in a strong position in the League. We are in the League race and believe we can do it. We have the hunger. We could focus on today and not have Barcelona on our minds." As for Wednesday he said: "We are not favourites, but we can do it."

Arsenal could have won this game much more emphatically. As Mick McCarthy, Wolves' manager, said, "We were murdered. It could have been six, seven or eight. I have to admire this performance, aspire to it."

Arsenal's passing and movement bewildered their opponents. At the heart of it, encouragingly after his heady and tiring week, was Jack Wilshere. "He had a very good game," added Wenger. "He defended well and attacked well, he created chances and assists. With more confidence he will score goals."

Slack finishing, inspired goalkeeping and some last-ditch blocks kept the score respectable. At the other end Wolves never tested Wojciech Szczesny behind an Arsenal defence which, with Johan Djourou restored to its centre, looked much more secure than in that infamous second half against Newcastle.

Wolves own defensive quartet was the same one that kept Manchester United at bay for so long last week as the leaders' unbeaten record was ended, but a clean sheet never looked likely. The game began with an unexpected hailstorm and an entirelypredictable Arsenal siege. Wolves, defending in depth, survived the initial assault and began to build attacks of their own.

After 16 minutes, however, their defence was breached in spectacular style. While not quite as stunning as Wayne Rooney's at Old Trafford, Van Persie's falling volley from a Cesc Fabregas cross was superbly executed.

Four minutes later it should have been 2-0 but Andrey Arshavin skewed his shot wide after Wayne Hennessey had misjudged a Van Persie corner. It was a rare error by the goalkeeper who made a string of fine saves.

The first was a startling one-handed stop from Theo Walcott after Arshavin had gone clear of Zubar. The rebound fell to Fabregas but his shot was blocked on the line by Richard Stearman. Either side of the break Hennessey then denied Van Persie and Stearman – who had inadvertently turned a Wilshere cross goalwards. Wilshere had already glided through the Wolves' defence, sending a series of defenders off-balance with his movement, before squaring to Walcott who somehow shot wide. It was one of those misses that makes a manager fear the consequences but Wenger could relax 10 minutes later. Fabregas, on the turn, played a superb first-time ball into Walcott on the right. He raced away then crossed for Van Persie to slide in.

Though McCarthy threw on a second striker to support Kevin Doyle, and Wenger withdrew Van Persie and Wilshere to rest them for Wednesday, that was game over. Having squandered that four-goal lead Arsenal were content to sit back and try and pick Wolves off on the break. Though Hennessey saved from Walcott and Fabregas it was noticeable with both counterattacks few team-mates went forward to support them. Arsenal were taking no chances. Besides, they needed to conserve energy for an altogether different challenge.

Attendance: 60,050

Referee: Chris Foy

Man of the match: Wilshere

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