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Post Match Review

Arsenal Tame Wolves – Post Match Tactical Analysis


Arsenal looked to continue their good form following on from a 2-1 crucial victory over Sheffield United in the FA Cup and 4-0 league demolition of Norwich. This time Arteta took his Arsenal side to an in-form Wolves side, who were hunting down the European spots for next season.

Arsenal goals from Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette saw Arsenal run out 2-0 victors at the Molineux Stadium. The performance and little time between fixtures compounded an enjoyable week for Arsenal.

This report will look to analyse the match and Arsenal’s performance.


Arteta's Arsenal master Wolves

Mikel Arteta once more set up his team in a 3-4-3. The emphasis was on Saka and Aubameyang to play closer in the half-spaces to Nketiah who led the line. The width was given by the wing-backs while Xhaka and Ceballos controlled the midfield.

Nuno Espirito Santo deployed his favoured 3-5-2 system. He picked the duo of Raul Jimenez and Adama Traore to lead the line.  Nuno looked to Leander Dendoncker to protect and guard the space in front of the Wolves defence.

Arsenal’s Build-up

Wolves started the game in typically bullish fashion. In the opening minutes, Jimenez and Traore attempted to link up, going through the centre of the Arsenal defence. Thankfully, the latter was thwarted by Emiliano Martínez’s presence in the Arsenal goal. Shortly after this, the match fell into a pattern which saw Arsenal control the majority of the ball, passing along their back line. Arsenal would patiently look to play through the Wolves shape. They looked to unlock either Saka or Aubameyang, who were positioned in pockets in the half-spaces. Rather than wholeheartedly press and risk Arsenal creating combinations and unlocking these pockets of space, the hosts preferred to drop off and use their cover shadows and body positioning to lock down different zones of the pitch. Wolves were happy with Arsenal having the ball and waited to pounce on any mistake.

Wolves looked to create a polygon trap in the central area of the pitch as Jimenez, Traore, Neves, Dendoncker, and Moutinho surrounded Ceballos and Xhaka. They wanted to prevent any passes through to them from the Arsenal back three. Wolves knew if either of Arsenal’s double pivot received the ball and could turn, then it would allow Arsenal to open up the pitch and find their front three in dangerous positions. Wolves elected to allow Arsenal to play out wide towards their wingbacks. In these situations, when Arsenal moved the ball quickly, the wing-backs would advance and one of the narrow wingers would drop to offer an option. This allowed Arsenal to move the ball quickly and try and get in behind the Wolves midfield.

Arteta's Arsenal master Wolves

This image shows Wolves’ polygon trap. Wolves wanted to create a high-risk passing zone should one of the Arsenal centre backs look to find Ceballos or Xhaka. This made it very hard for Arsenal’s two midfielders to get on the ball and dictate the game. On the occasion Xhaka and Ceballos did get on the ball, they were able to cause the Wolves defence real problems, attacking with numbers

Arsenal’s Width

Arteta prepared for Wolves forcing Arsenal wide. He set his team to create rhombus shapes, when out wide. One of the wide centre-backs would move forward and form the base of the passing structure. This would often create a 4 v 3 in Arsenal’s favour, with Arsenal looking to progress the ball into the final stage of an attack if possible. The fourth man, often Mustafi or Kolasinac, would provide an option to retain the ball if the final pass to an attacking player wasn’t available. This allowed Arsenal to not get pinned out wide and retain possession. In these situations, it was vital that one of Xhaka and Ceballos (usually Xhaka) would drop into the back three, whilst the other moved closer to ball zone and help create balance. This would aid Arsenal in the retention of the ball, as well as should they lose possession.

It was from this rhombus structure, which saw Arsenal effectively move the ball down the right and work the ball through Aubameyang to Tierney. From there, Tierney’s deflected cross, saw Saka meet the ball and score a sumptuous goal. Furthermore, it was from the wide areas of the pitch, after some pin ball, which saw Willock fire a low cross into Lacazaette, for him to then expertly score. Arsenal really made the most of their time in the wide positions.

Arteta's Arsenal master Wolves

This image shows Arsenal once they broke through Wolves’ initial pressure and played out wide. Arsenal wanted to create numerical superiority with a 4 v 3 situation, involving Mustafi, Cedric, Nketiah, and Saka. Coady was somewhat reluctant to move across and create a 4 v 4, as he would leave a large gap between him and Boly. When in this position, it was important for Arsenal to play quick combinations progressing towards the final third. They could then cross or make a final pass to a teammate.

Arsenal’s Pressing

Similarly to when Wolves would press, Arsenal aimed to cut passes through to Wolves midfield. When Wolves were building-up through their centre-backs and the wing-backs had become advanced, Arsenal’s front three would spread out and individually press their nearest man upon him receiving the ball. This caused the front three to get spread and opened gaps for a pass into midfield. To combat this, Xhaka and Ceballos would attach themselves to the deepest midfielder, preventing any passing options. The Arsenal wing-backs Tierney and Cedric then locked onto the Wolves’ wing-backs. This often forced Wolves long with a ball towards Jimenez and Traore, who were 2 v 3 against Arsenal’s back three.

Alternatively, if Wolves looked to build-up play with a back five and the wing-backs were more withdrawn, Arsenal would look for their front three to press narrow and tight together. This prevented passes into the midfield. It forced the ball out to one of the wing-backs, who were then closed down by Tierney and Cedric. Xhaka and Ceballos could then help create balance by shifting across to the ball side, along with the wide centre-back. This helped create numerical advantages around the ball.

Arsenal master Wolves

This image shows the moment Wolves’ wing-backs advanced and Arsenal’s forwards pressed the Wolves back three. Xhaka or Ceballos would then go and mark Wolves’ deepest midfielder, preventing them from receiving a pass

Eddie Nketiah’s role

Arteta looked to match Nketiah against Romain Saiss. The Arsenal starlet would drop off the last line of defenders, attracting the Wolves man, before darting in behind him again. This was probably down to Arteta and his coaches noticing Saiss’  poor awareness and lack of pace. A common pattern upon Xhaka receiving the ball off one the front three, was for Nketiah to drop off the line and then run in behind again. Xhaka would then look to find him over the top.

Another job of Nketiah was to close down Conor Coady when he received the ball. Coady is a good ball-playing defender; Nuno had converted him from defensive midfield to centre-back early on in his reign. Being the centre of the three and most withdrawn centre-back, Coady, rather than engage his opponent, takes his time to play perfect pinpoint passes to his teammates. He often looks for one of the wingers who is making an in-from-out run. Arteta knew of this danger and knew of problems it can cause, such as Manchester City’s defeat to Wolves, which Arteta was involved in. Coady’s perfect ball beat City’s defence and saw Ederson come out from his goal and take out Diego Jota, receiving a red card in their 3-2 defeat to Wolves early this season.


In conclusion, once more Arsenal saw the fruits of Mikel Arteta’s and his staffs’ expert reading of their opposition. Subtle changes to Arsenal’s formation helped them negotiate the challenges posed by Wolves. Eddie Nketiah, despite being relatively quiet in front of goal, put in a vital shift for Arsenal. The use of width from Arsenal and the impressive performance from Saka was really encouraging for an Arsenal team who are finding good rhythm in games.

One worry many Arsenal fans had ahead of the game was Adama Traore – the pacey frontman has been terrorising defences this season. However, Arsenal dealt with him very well: they got men around him and always ensured his path was blocked. Arsenal didn’t look to challenge him upon receiving the ball, due to his strength – they instead tried to predict and manage his dribbles, channelling him into traffic. Its surprising Nuno didn’t move him out wide or into a more menacing area. Arsenal must be given credit for how they managed him.

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