WOLVERHAMPTON, England (AP)Arsenal will head into the World Cup break with a five-point lead over Manchester City in the Premier League after Martin Odegaard’s double clinched a 2-0 win at Wolverhampton on Saturday.
The captain’s goals in the 55th and 75th minutes showed City, which lost 2-1 to Brentford earlier in the day, that its crown is under threat.
Mikel Arteta’s team is a genuine contender, grinding out a 12th victory in 14 matches with a performance which demonstrated their steel and composure.
Wolves will be in last place at Christmas – league play resumes on Dec. 26 – but held their own for long spells and there are reasons to be positive with recently hired manager Julen Lopetegui’s era about to start.
Wolves chairman Jeff Shi called the search for Bruno Lage’s replacement painful after Lopetegui initially rejected the club and Michael Beale performed a U-turn to stay at second-tier Queens Park Rangers.
Introduced to the home fans before the game, Lopetegui took the acclaim during a lap of the field six years after Wolves first tried to appoint him.
It has been a long wait and the former Spain and Real Madrid coach will be expected to work wonders to beat the drop but will have the same problems as caretaker Steve Davis and Lage.
Lopetegui will need reinforcements in January – especially a striker – for Wolves to extend their top flight stay to a sixth season though he will have at least been encouraged by the hosts’ resilience which will be desperately needed during a relegation fight.
Arteta has no such problems and his team will be top at Christmas, something not even the most optimistic Gunners fan would have predicted.
City’s surprise loss gave Arsenal the chance to push further clear but the visitors were initially frustrated.
Gabriel Jesus drilled home a shot but was offside, and goalkeeper Jose Sa hurriedly turned Bukayo Saka’s deflected cross over.
Arsenal lost Granit Xhaka, forced off after 15 minutes after needing treatment, and replaced him with Fabio Vieira.
The Gunners dominated the ball but Wolves reminded the visitors of their threat when Goncalo Guedes fired over following a quick break.
Despite its territorial dominance, Arsenal struggled to create clear openings – a credit to Wolves’ organization.
A driving run from Saka created a chance for Jesus and, with a hint of offside, the striker hit the bar with 10 minutes of the half remaining. The Brazil international, without a goal in his previous 10 games, then wasted a promising opening when he volleyed wide off Ben White’s cross.
While it remained tight, the struggling hosts were always in the contest and William Saliba gifted them a golden chance just before the break.
The defender’s back pass was read by Guedes, who had a free run on goal, but Gabriel came to the rescue to deflect his shot wide.
But if there were any growing Arsenal frustrations, they disappeared 10 minutes after the break when Odegaard opened the scoring.
It was the first time the visitors wriggled in behind Wolves and when a delightful ball from Jesus gave Vieira space in the box, his cross was turned in by Odegaard from close range.
From then, it was comfortable for the Gunners and Odegaard added a second with 15 minutes left.
Dexter Lembikisa lost the ball to Gabriel Martinelli, who teed up Oleksandr Zinchenko to cross. The ball fell for Martinelli, who was denied by Sa but Odegaard controlled the rebound and lashed into the bottom corner.
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