Martin Ødegaard sparkles as Arsenal edge past Wolves to extend lead at top

<span>Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

There is something stirring in the red half of north London. A clinical victory – Arsenal’s fourth in all competitions – thanks to two early goals from Bukayo Saka and Martin Ødegaard sent Mikel Arteta’s side four points clear at the top of the table and strengthened their quest to seal a first league title for two decades.

After a slow start that still left them within touching distance of the other contenders, Arsenal are now clicking into gear and it is no coincidence that their return to goalscoring form has coincided with Ødegaard’s return from injury. The Arsenal captain was in sparkling form against a Wolves side who never stopped running for manager, Gary O’Neil, but ultimately could not respond to their opponents’ show of quality inside the opening quarter of an hour despite a late consolation for Matheus Cunha after a mistake from Oleksandr Zinchenko that sparked a frantic finale.

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“Every player has his strengths and weaknesses but Oleksandr gives us so many positive things,” said Arteta of the full-back’s error for the goal when he surrendered possession on the edge of his own box. “This kind of thing can happen to any player and we have to learn from it. But we will get better.”

Both former midfielders who are now managers, Arteta and O’Neil have formed an unlikely friendship over their careers and even bumped into each other while they were staying in the same hotel during the winter break for last year’s World Cup. Before kick-off there was a show of mutual appreciation but the Arsenal manager returned to his dugout with a steely focus in his eyes that indicated his team meant business.

The destruction of Lens here on Wednesday when Arsenal were 5-0 up by half-time had whetted the appetite among supporters for more goals and it only took six minutes for Saka to oblige. The England forward was allowed to wriggle out of a tight space on the touchline and found Gabriel Jesus before sprinting into the box on to a return pass from Takehiro Tomiyasu and finishing with his right foot. It was the first time Arsenal had managed to scored inside the first 15 minutes of a Premier League game at home this season and they had soon doubled that tally thanks to Ødegaard.

A fantastic one-two between Jesus and Zinchenko was the catalyst for the goal, with the Ukraine full-back’s cutback played perfectly into Ødegaard’s path to sweep home from 14 yards. It was breathtaking stuff on a freezing afternoon in north London.

Bukayo Saka opens the scoring for Arsenal against Wolves
Bukayo Saka opens the scoring for Arsenal against Wolves. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Wolves had returned to the capital still smarting from the 3-2 defeat to Fulham on Monday after a controversial late penalty in their latest run-in with VAR. But there was no respite for them as Leandro Trossard could have made it 3-0 had it not been for a good save from José Sá. That proved to be the Wolves goalkeeper’s last act as he was replaced by Dan Bentley with what O’Neil confirmed was a back injury.

While Arsenal may not have been at their rip-roaring best in attack so far the season, their defence has been much more reliable and the partnership between Gabriel and William Saliba handled the dual threat of Cunha and Hwang Hee-chan with ease at times during the first half. Only a lapse of concentration from Zinchenko when he was caught on the ball by Nelson Semedo provided a moment of alarm but Gabriel Martinelli was able to cover. Within seconds, the Brazilian was down the other end and striking an effort that came back off a post before Jesus spurned two great chances to put the game out of reach. Another mistake from Zinchenko then almost handed Wolves a lifeline as he misjudged a backpass but David Raya was out quickly to deny Hwang.

Complacency seemed to be the only threat to Arsenal and they came out for the second half intent on finishing off Wolves but couldn’t quite manage it. O’Neil’s side had scored in 12 successive league matches since losing to Manchester United in the season’s opening round of fixtures and were far more of a threat after the break. Yet it wasn’t until another lapse from Zinchenko three minutes before full-time that they finally broke through, with Cunha’s arrowed finish giving Raya no chance. A wonderful piece of skill from Ødegaard to set up substitute Eddie Nketiah should have finally settled the home side’s nerves but the striker’s effort cannoned back off a post.

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O’Neil hoped his side might be given a penalty in stoppage time when Semedo’s cross was blocked by Gabriel, but, this time, he could have no complaints as a relieved Arsenal hung on. “We managed to stay in the game and create a nervous ending for Arsenal so the lads should take a lot from that,” said the Wolves manager.