Match Preview: Wolves v Arsenal; Gunners Top 4 Destiny in their Own Hands
By some quirk of weird fate or whatever you want to call it, none of the top 4 contenders managed to solidify their hold on Champion’s League qualification, as all 4 of them had negative results with only Chelsea managing a draw. Tonight, Arsenal face off against Wolves with a chance to stay in the top 4.
It’s a task easier said than done. Arsenal’s away record still is among the worst in the league. Additionally, Wolves are a well-managed team that have had some success in particular against big 6 sides.
Their record against the top 6 in all competitions is:
Played: 12 Won: 5 Drew: 4 Lost: 3
That’s pretty impressive for a team like Wolves with maybe a quarter of the budget they have. But it is a testament to the coaching of Nuno Espírito Santo. The lifelong backup keeper who through a managerial career with spells at Valencia and Porto has his Premier League side looking like a threat each time they take the pitch.
Emery’s game plan
A lot of the focus in the wake of the loss to Crystal Palace was the colossal mistake made by Mustafi on the second goal. It was a large moment when Arsenal were in the ascendancy and it changed the feel of the match completely.
However, as has been the case through multiple matches most notably on the road, Emery’s game plan left a little to be desired.
Starting with 3 at the back and playing the midfield duo of Guendouzi and Elneny, the team was unbalanced from the start and it was the visiting side that looked the more lethal.
Emery likely was looking to keep the team rotated and fresh looking to this match and with the Europa League semi-finals still in play. However, at this point, maybe he needs to start depending on his primary XI to get him through the business end of a season, especially since the top 4 is there for the taking.
His approach on the road is more emblematic of the problems Arsenal are having this season.
He’s adopted a more pragmatic approach, often times sitting back to let the home side have the possession and then look to counter. Certainly, Arsenal have the attacking players for an effective counter-attack but the reality is, he’s done nothing to improve our defensive structure.
Why is that important? Because sitting back to invite pressure on a team that is woefully inept at defending, is a suicide mission.
Yes, Mustafi is poor but when you look at our defenders, especially in the centre part of the back 4, we have centre backs all of the same type. They are dynamic, front foot defenders, who are better stepping up intercepting the ball.
None of them have the ability to read the game very well and for the most part, all make mistakes in 1v1 situations – to varying degrees and some less than others.
Our best asset is our attack, even when they are misfiring the Arsenal attack is chock full of talent and should be our focus especially against lesser sides – even on the road.
Yes, pragmatism makes sense at some point, especially against teams like City and Liverpool – but West Ham? Southampton? It hurt us.
How Emery approaches this match is important. Another result like Sunday (sans the Mustafi gaffe) and top 4 is going to move further away. It may be a lack of understanding of the league and learning curve for the manager but he has an opportunity to do something none of us thought would happen this year.
He needs this match – so do we all.
The Wolves Threat
As we mentioned, Wolves are in impressive form against the top 6 this year. And that’s down to a manager who has taken what he’s learned from his time at Valencia and Porto and developed a team that has been impressive to watch this season.
While Nuno, doesn’t depend on any one particular playing style or formation, Wolves roll quite frequently with a 3-4-3 with sound defensive structure off the ball and intense, quick penetrative passes in the ball.
In the 3-4-3 the wing-backs are essential to their attacking play with them looking to play into the striker being an outlet for hold up play bringing in the rest of the attack.
The two midfielders in the 4 tend to sit back a little deeper than normal making them harder to break down and giving freedom to the inside forwards in possession.
Against bigger teams who like the ball more, they fluctuate mostly from the 3-4-3 to the 5-4-1. Against us last time they used this fluidity to create 7 different counter-attacking opportunities against us with 4 resulting in shots.
Overall in the last match at the Emirates, they had 13 shots with 5 on target and two blocked.
Emery will need to be better prepared to try and take away Wolves strength in compact play if the Gunners are going to come out of this with a tighter grip on the top 4.
Arsenal Record vs Wolves
Premier League – 9M 7W 2D 0L
Goals Scored Average Per Game
Arsenal: 1.69 (away)
Wolves: 1.41 (home)
Goals Conceded Average Per Game
Arsenal: 1.75 (away)
Wolves: 1.18 (home)
What the Head Coach Says (Courtesy Arsenal.com)
“[We need to] continue being proud of our season and knowing the key moments are now,” Emery said in his press conference. “Tomorrow is also a big moment and a big match for us, a big challenge because we are playing against a team who feel strong with their supporters.
“But it’s a good moment to try to do all we can, with intelligence. We need to be clear, we need to play with heart but above all being clear in our minds.
“They are going to push a lot tomorrow. I worked one thing here very quickly. We are playing against all of the teams and they want to battle us, fighting and playing with a big motivation.
“One is the motivation in the table for each player and one is the motivation against Arsenal. Every team wants to battle us because they respect us and also because it’s important to try to win against us.”
Referee: Stuart Attwell (18M 56Y 1R)
Assistants: Constantine Hatzidakis, Peter Kirkup
Fourth official: Martin Atkinson
UK: Arsenal.com (audio only) 19.45 BST
US: NBC Sports Gold 2:45 PM EST
Match Facts (courtesy BBC.co.uk)
- Arsenal are unbeaten in their nine previous Premier League encounters against Wolves, recording victories in seven of them.
- Wolves are winless in 16 top-flight fixtures against Arsenal (D4, L12) since a 3-2 victory at Highbury in 1979.
- Wolves are without a home win versus the Gunners in all competitions in nine games (losing eight of those matches) since a 1-0 triumph in October 1978.
- November’s reverse fixture finished 1-1, with Arsenal equalising in the 86th minute.
- Arsenal are in danger of suffering back-to-back league defeats for the first time since their opening two fixtures of the season.
- They have lost four of their seven away games against sides currently in the top half of table.
- Unai Emery’s side have kept only one clean sheet in their 16 away league matches in 2018-19.
- The Gunners have 66 points, which is their highest tally after 34 games since the 2014-15 season.
- Only Manchester City and Liverpool have scored more Premier League goals than Arsenal’s tally of 68.
Wolves 1 – 1 Arsenal