Gary O’Neil was left with mixed emotions following Wolves’ defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates, as although disappointed with his side conceding two early goals, he was proud with the way his players fought back.
Despite falling behind in the opening 15 minutes, O’Neil felt his side were never going to let the game run away from them and almost snatched a point after Matheus Cunha’s effort late on in the game closed the gap to the Gunners, but it was not enough for Wolves as Arsenal held on for the victory.
On coming back from two down
“When you concede two early goals you think it could be a long afternoon, but I knew the lads understood the plan well and that it was going to be solid and sound.
“I knew that we’d suffer some moments against Arsenal because everybody does, and I felt we’d find a foothold and find a way back in and it was a long way back to get anything from the game, but we didn’t fear it would get away from us.
“The lads stuck together and gave everything they could to get us back in the game and gave Arsenal a little scare at the end. The lads should take a lot from that performance because we were short in numbers today, three young lads on the bench for their first time, we had to change the goalie, so to keep going, stick together and give Arsenal a scare, it was a good effort.”
On conceding early goals
“I’m not really frustrated by how long it took us to threaten them, they’re a good side, I’m frustrated with the first goal because it was something we worked hard on, getting good numbers around Saka, and maybe we were a little bit undecisive in our penalty area.
“The second goal was obviously an incredible goal and we could have dealt with it better, but we’re very proud with what we produced from there.
“We came here with a lot of people missing, we were short on numbers and the way the lads stuck together, the way they found a way back into the game and kept going, never gave up. 2-1 down, managed to give Arsenal a few scares, so I was pleased with the performance and the commitment but going 2-0 down makes things difficult.”
On fighting until the end
“We had a couple of plans. One where we dropped around with numbers and we did well with, mainly, apart from the first goal, and there were other times when we were aggressive and found some success from that, where we would press man for man and manage to win the ball high up, even from the goal came from a regain high up and a fantastic finish from Matheus Cunha.
“But they’re a good side, they’re difficult to stop and having to change the goalkeeper at 2-0 down early and use one of our changes was not ideal either, so it was a difficult day for us. We knew it would be tough, but that was as good as the players could give today and I can accept that.”
On Cunha’s second goal this week
“He’s a top player. Some of his moments today where he was able to walk past their defenders in the penalty area, I think one was Declan Rice, who is not easy to get past, and his shot hits Raya in the face, and he has those individual moments where he can turn on and turn games.
“We always have this trade-off between me and Matheus about him playing in the structure and playing where I need him, while allowing him to be free enough to go and express himself. It’s a weekly battle with that one, as I try to get my side into him and he still has his side, but I thought he was good today.
“We were missing a couple of senior players, a couple of ones who have played a lot of games for us, and Matheus stepped up and the way he stepped up to lead the group was good to see from him, and he scored a fantastic goal.”
On Jose Sa’s injury
“He had some tightness in his back, but he’ll be fine. It was a back spasm and it was strange really as it’s not something he has suffered from before. His foot slipped and he flet something tighten up in his back.
“He was struggling with moving a little bit, struggling to kick, so we could possibly have left him on, but we felt where he was, we didn’t need him taking goal kicks as that could have caused us a problem, so it was better to get him off, get him some treatment and we’ve got a big game on Tuesday and I anticipate he’ll be fine for.
“But a big mention for Bents as well because I thought he was excellent when he came on and made some important saves as well. It’s not easy as a number two goalkeeper because you don’t play that often and when you do, you need to be ready to perform at the top level, so I was really pleased with him because I thought he played well.”
On away record this season
“It's more difficult away, of course, so going away from home to the Emirates, there won’t be many who come here this season and win, so it was always going to be tough. We’ve had two good wins on the road already, one at Bournemouth and one at Everton, and winning away in the Premier League is difficult, which is why it feels so good when you manage to do it.
“But there’s no concerns around the group at all, but of course there are always things to improve, we could have defended better, we could have been better from the restarts – we weren’t at our best from restarts, free-kicks, throw-ins – but when you ask a group to stick together, work to the game plan and give everything they’ve got, that was everything they’d got today and we accept it wasn’t quite enough today.”