Premier League - Hero Hennessey frustrates Arsenal

Tue, 27 Dec 16:58:00 2011

Arsenal missed the chance to go fourth in the Premier League as they were denied by a series of saves from Wayne Hennessey when being held to a 1-1 draw by Wolves at Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal 1 Wolves 1

The Gunners, without a defeat to Wolves since 1979, were looking to capitalise on a draw between Chelsea and Fulham on Boxing Day and took the lead after only eight minutes when Gervinho beat the offside trap to score his fourth goal of the season.

However, Steven Fletcher scored an unlikely equaliser with seven minutes remaining of the first half as he displayed expert reactions to head home a deflected shot by Stephen Hunt and put Arsenal's run of 12 consecutive victories against Wolves in all competitions in jeopardy.

Though Wolves were reduced to 10 men when Nenad Milijas was harshly dismissed for a challenge on Mikel Arteta after 75 minutes, Hennessey denied Arsenal - and captain Robin van Persie in particular - time and time again in the closing stages with a performance of real resilience that ensured the Gunners remained in fifth place.

A 2-1 win at Aston Villa prior to Christmas had restored Arsenal's equilibrium after a loss away at Manchester City had brought their unbeaten run to a halt, and for the majority of the first half at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday they played like the team that has rejuvenated their Champions League hopes, rather than the rabble that started the season.

Though Wolves winger Matt Jarvis looked keen to exploit the glaring weakness in Arsenal's side - the presence of Johan Djourou at right-back - and twice eluded the makeshift full-back to threaten in the early stages, Arsenal were in front after only eight minutes.

Yossi Benayoun - handed his first Premier League start for Arsenal in the absence of the sick Theo Walcott - played in Gervinho with a cute through-ball and, with Ronald Zubar playing him onside, the forward knocked the ball to the side of Hennessey and calmly slotted his shot home.

Benayoun's movement, coupled with that of Tomas Rosicky and Gervinho, was causing Wolves problems and the Israeli drifted out to the left soon after to exchange passes with the marauding Thomas Vermaelen. However, the makeshift left-back saw his low effort blocked.

Van Persie, searching for the three goals that would see him break Alan Shearer's record of 36 in a calendar year in the Premier League, threatened intermittently, and dragged his first effort wide of the post after being played in by Gervinho.

The Dutchman then robbed Karl Henry 20 yards from the Wolves goal, nutmegged the midfielder for good measure and fed Rosicky, whose subsequent pass drew a low effort from Arteta. Van Persie went close himself after 30 minutes when he showed great strength to slip the ball around Roger Johnson, wrestle past the defender and then thump a low effort at goal that forced Hennessey into a save at his near post.

Arsenal, with six wins in seven undefeated home games in the league and seemingly coasting to another, were jolted out of their state of induced comfort on 38 minutes though when Wolves levelled out of the blue.

After a poor clearance from Arsenal, Hunt took a couple of touches on the edge of the box before seeing his firm effort deflect off Laurent Koscielny and squirm away to the right. Fletcher was well placed to meet the ball but still reacted superbly to arch his neck and direct a header back across goal and inside the near post.

Perhaps lacking the raw pace of Walcott, despite the touch of calm and class Benayoun brought to proceedings, Arsenal were struggling to break Wolves down at the back and such frustration probably explained why Vermaelen was so furious when a cross from Koscielny caught a Wolves arm but no penalty was awarded. He was booked for his angry protestations.

It was something of a surprise when Andrei Arshavin replaced Benayoun rather than the increasingly wasteful Gervinho after 61 minutes but the Ivorian soon demonstrated his worth when winning a free-kick from Karl Henry. Van Persie had to physically move referee Stuart Atwell out of the path of his run-up before his wickedly curling effort was expertly tipped over by Hennessey.

However, the Wolves keeper excelled himself just a minute later. Rosicky used the outside of his right boot to produce a glorious cross for Per Mertesacker, and the German surely thought he had scored when he rose above the defence to produce a firm header, only to see Hennessey block the ball with a fine reaction stop.

As Arsenal palpably increased the pressure on the visitors, they were given a helping hand on 75 minutes when Milijas was shown a straight red card. Referee Attwell had been threatening to lose control of the tie for some time and made the wrong decision when Milijas lost control of the ball and slid in on Arteta. It was reckless, certainly, but not sufficiently dangerous that it merited an immediate dismissal.

Arsenal promptly laid siege to the Wolves goal, with Arshavin drilling one volley just wide of the upright and Van Persie beating the offside trap, only to take far too long to dig out a shot. The Dutchman was certainly enjoying enough chances to surpass Shearer's record but then saw Hennessey claw away a free-kick before the Wolves keeper denied him again from a tight angle.

The home crowd cheered when it was signalled that six minutes of injury time would be added, but Hennessey was impenetrable and denied Vermaelen in a frantic conclusion that ultimately yielded just a point for the home side.

Tom Adams - @tomEurosport / Eurosport

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