Arsenal Look To Build On Recent Successes With Difficult Trip to Wolves – Match Preview
Arsenal are set to resume their frantic finish to close out the 2019-2020 Premier League season with yet another road trip, this time to the Molineux to take on Wolves. Arsenal are in search of their third league in a row which they last put together just prior to the shutdown when everything was humming right along.
Wolves present a problem for Arsenal as they have over the last few seasons. When they last met in November the Gunners were fortunate to land a 1-1 draw at the Emirates, as the Emery era was close to ending. Prior to that Wolves had visited the Emirates rolling away 3-1 winners.
But this is different with a different coach and a different mindset permeating through the club. Preparation is now focused on being the proactive side Emery had boasted he wanted his Arsenal sides to be. Only to see them scared to do anything with or without the ball.
In stark comparison, Arteta works at prepping his team for the match ahead looking to impose his style on an opponent while searching for weaknesses in the opponents set up that his team can exploit. With Wolves on a three-game winning streak, they pose another stern test for the first-year Arsenal coach.
When Last We Met
At the Emirates Arsenal were reeling from an awful week that saw them throw away a lead against Crystal Palace and get dumped out of the league cup in a 5-5 draw against Liverpool. They were a team shorn of confidence and within the first 10 minutes it was the visitors that looked the more likely to take the spoils that day.
Wolves opted for a 5-3-2 (3-4-3). Wolves concentrated their initial attacks central with long balls on the ground into the feet of Raúl Jiménez who looked to play the ball off to either Rúben Neves or João Moutinho.
Wolves would then look to distribute the ball to the near side wingback looking to attack the wide spaces of the Arsenal defence. The wide play often times effectively supported by either Diogo Jota or any midfielder near the play at that time. If they ran into pressure, they quickly looked to switch the point of the attack and where they could try and create attacking imbalances in play.
The strategy forced Arsenal to commit to additional midfield support out in the wide channels leaving the midfield open. And early on it looked like it would pay dividends had Wolves not been wasteful.
By the end of Arsenal found themselves fortunate not to wind up losing this match.
Key Match Up
Adama Traore is Wolves primary threat. Ideally Wolves want to get him into 1v1 situations where he can take on a defender and get into either a scoring situation or looking to work in tandem with Jiménez. Traore has averaged 14.08 dribbles per 90 working out to a 71% success rate.
This all means that Kieran Tierney is going to be the man tasked with stopping the quick and strong Traore. The good thing about Tierney he has at his disposal three attributes which could make him match up well against Traore.
He has excellent sprint speed, an immense work ethic and excellent in-game intelligence. He’s also a keen defender. Prior to coming to Arsenal Tierney was average 18.53 duels won per game, 8.04 recoveries in the opposition half and won the ball back at an average of 5.06 per game.
While you never want to see a defender get all isolated against talented attackers, Tierney won’t shrink from the challenge. Tactically though, Arteta may sacrifice Tierney’s attacking ability for a little more cover in transition to prevent Traore from getting any time on the ball out wide.
Arteta’s Selection Headache
We know Wolves are going to present a staunch tactical test for the new head coach but it is one he’ll likely relish as he tries to solve the puzzle the match presents him. The first and probably hardest is the starting XI.
Against Norwich in the midweek tie he went for a strong lineup but still managed to rotate from the previous weekend’s FA Cup tie. One of the big decisions will be what to do about Hector Bellerin. This game is likely to be quickly played and while Bellerin looked solid in Norwich match it is still evident that he’s still not 100% after his return from a double ACL rupture.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles looked pretty impressive playing the wingback position against Sheffield United and provided not only strength in defence but smart options on the ball in attack.
The other concern is Center Back. A majority of Wolves goals come from the central areas. One of the hallmarks of Arteta’s early reign has been providing structure around his centre-backs. While its reduced the number of goals we’ve conceded there is the worrying trend of seeing expected goals against actually tick upward, albeit slightly (1.47 for Arteta, 1.39 pre-Arteta). He’s got to get that tandem right against a team like this or it could be the end of any hope for a European spot.
This won’t be an easy match by any stretch. But Arsenal are building some momentum and as they showed when Arteta took over, the momentum only increased over time as they bought into the new bosses system and style of play.
With the opportunity to get back into Europe for next season, there is plenty to play for. The team have to be smart and effective when they step onto the pitch. Mistakes or lacklustre effort will sadly, end any chance to play in Europe next season.
Wolves 1 – 1 Arsenal
WHAT THE HEAD COACH SAYS (COURTESY ARSENAL.COM)
The manager has created the perfect environment for the players. I think they didn’t have very big expectations but with their performances and their consistency, they have gained respect from all the teams in the league. They compete really well, a really clear gameplan of how they want to expose their opponent, very solid defensively and with some really good talent in forward positions that can win the game at any moment. A very complicated side.
I think a lot of teams have struggled to create anything against them. They are really, really strong defensively, very well structured, very little spaces to attack. We have a plan to try to help them, with the right players in the right spaces to try to create the chances that we need to win the game. As well, they’re a team who try to counter-attack and when they are stable in the final third against the opponent, they have the players to hurt you. That’s why they are very solid and consistent. They are a team that doesn’t concede many and always has a good chance to win the game, and be up near the top of the table.
ARSENAL RECORD VS OPPONENT (LEAGUE ONLY)
11P 7W 3D 1L
AVERAGE GOALS SCORED PER GAME
Arsenal: 1.06 (away)
Wolves: 1.38 (away)
AVERAGE GOALS CONCEDED PER GAME
Arsenal: 1.31 (away)
Wolves: 1.06 (home)
Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistants: Stuart Burt, Dan Cook
Fourth official: Andre Marriner
Replacement official: Craig Taylor
VAR: Paul Tierney
Assistant VAR: Lee Betts.
MATCH FACTS (COURTESY BBC.CO.UK)
- Wolves are undefeated in the past three meetings (W1, D2).
- Victory in the corresponding fixture last season ended Wolves’ 20-game winless run in all competitions against the Gunners, which stretched back to 1979.
- Arsenal have won eight of their past 11 matches in all competitions.
- However, they are winless in their 17 most recent Premier League away games against sides starting the day above them in the table (D5, L12).
- The Gunners are attempting to secure back-to-back away league victories for the first time since August.
- Arsenal have only won three of their 16 top-flight away fixtures this season.
- They can keep three successive Premier League clean sheets for the first time since November 2017.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang needs one goal to become only the second Arsenal player to score 20 goals in consecutive Premier League seasons, emulating Thierry Henry.