It’s been strange for any team in the Premier League this season, but last night was a particularly strange one for Arsenal.
It is rare that you see a team reduced to nine men, and even more rare that you see a goalkeeper ejecting the ball for a throw-in under very little pressure.
But that’s exactly what happened at Molineux when Bernd Leno misjudged Nelson Semedo’s flying ball and swept it away even though Adama Traore was far from it.
What his replacement runar Alex Runarsson did after he came, although we got a little more used to it.
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Since arriving at Arsenal on the basis of next to nothing but working with goalkeeping coach Inaki Cana at FC Nordsjælland, Runarsson has done little to suggest that he is the goalkeeper caliber for a Gunners level club is required.
Mistakes against Molde and Rapid Vienna in the Europa League were almost swept under the rug, but his abuse of Riyad Mahrez’s free kick in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals against Manchester City highlighted his inadequacies as a stopper.
As he sprinted onto the pitch on Tuesday following Leno’s release, a noticeable tension began to emerge on the Arsenal side.
He made some decent saves at first to allay some of the fears, but within seconds he was proving why Mikel Arteta was dying to replace him in the January transfer window.
When Arsenal wanted to play from behind towards the end of the game, the 25-year-old played a one-two. Gabriel opened up Granit Xhaka space for a quick ball that would have hit the wolves’ press.
Instead of playing the pass, Runarsson panicked and threw the ball to the corner at the opponent.
A visibly angry Gabriel threw his arms in the sky and screamed and pointed at Xhaka, who could do a little less himself to hide his disappointment.
This in itself doesn’t seem like a big deal. Football players fall out on the field all the time, and goalkeepers often make mistakes when playing from behind.
But the sense of panic that quickly spread across the Arsenal defense immediately after Runarsson’s entry onto the pitch shows just how big the problem the Gunners have between the sticks.
All you have to do is look across London to West Ham last season to see the damaging effects a disastrous goalkeeper can have on defense.
In the absence of Lukasz Fabianski, Roberto had to play in goal for Hammers, who conceded 18 goals in the eight games the Spaniard played for them.
The apparent distrust caused four concerns among the West Ham Back Four, which were only quenched with the signing of Darren Randolph in early January and the return of Fabianski not long after.
From today’s perspective, Arsenal could find themselves in a similar situation next Saturday, with the defenders feeling the need to overcompensate in order to stop the shots should they get in his way due to the lack of confidence in the goalkeeper behind them.
Mat Ryan was loaned out from Brighton in the January window despite the Australian’s current muscle injury.
After losing at Wolves, Arteta showed the newcomer was facing a race against time to be fit for the game against Aston Villa.
“He had a muscle problem and he has not been able to train for the past two days,” said the Spaniard. “Hopefully we can get it back in the next few days.”
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When Leno is suspended, the Gunners must try to find a way to push Leno back or they risk finding themselves in the middle of a real goalkeeping crisis.
The irony of all this is of course not lost on Emi Martinez, who will be standing between the sticks for Aston Villa on Sunday at the other end.
Arsenal would like to prove their quality again in the Emirates.
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