After a suspect beginning to the restart, Arsenal have bounced back with three straight wins — two in the Premier League. All three were games, that many fans would have expected them to win, but they managed to win them with good looking scorelines and identity. That’s the important part. A 2-0 win over Southampton, 2-1 over Sheffield in the FA Cup, and a dominant 4-0 over Norwich puts Arsenal in a position where points today would be a big step in their attempt to stay in the chase.
By all accounts, Arsenal likely need to find a way to get 3 points but playing away against the 6th place team is never easy. Especially against a fast counter-attacking, physical Wolverhampton side. Being left with fixtures like this, make the result against Brighton much harder to swallow in hindsight. A game Arsenal will want back or, at the very least, will have wished they managed a point that would put them level with Sheffield United.
Over the years, Arsenal have found Wolves to be a decent hunting ground, grabbing 199 points of a possible 345 (1.73 points per game) in their 115 matchups — 57 wins, 28 draws, and 30 losses. But the Wolves of late present a much tougher challenge. Arsenal managed a 1-1 draw earlier in the year under Unai Emery with a side that will likely look quite different than what Arteta puts on the pitch.
In the lead up to today’s match, Arsenal released the following team news:
Being assessed ahead of Wolves (a) following back soreness.
Fit and available for selection.
Left knee. Ruptured anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee during Chelsea (h) on December 29. Rehabilitation post-surgical repair continuing and currently progressing well with running and gym work. Will not be available for the current schedule of remaining 2019/20 matches.
Right knee. Sustained moderate ligament sprain during Brighton & Hove (a) on June 20. Aiming to return to full training in approximately four weeks.
Left ankle. Sustained significant sprain to ankle ligaments during Manchester City (a). Has had a successful procedure to the injury this week. Aiming to return to full training in two to three months.
Left knee. Sustained injury during training on June 21. Successful arthroscopic procedure undertaken to repair a lesion in the cartilage of the left knee. Will not be available for the current schedule of remaining 2019/20 matches.
Most of it is unsurprising, and suggests Arsenal are almost back to a full bill of health from players that don’t have season ending injuries like Chambers, Leno, Mari, and Martinelli but Ozil reportedly missed training yesterday and is still being assessed for a consistent back injury.
Wolverhampton has asserted themselves a team that is capable of beating anyone on their day. With a defense that has given up only 34 goals and a blistering counter attack that has managed to score 45, Arsenal will have have a tough time breaking down the defense while staying disciplined.
On the challenge of beating Wolves defense, Arteta said “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.”
In the attack, Wolves have a front three with a lot of chemistry and a make-up that has the ability to beat teams in many ways. Adama Traore has the size and speed to beat almost any defender and serve balls into Raul Jimenez, a great central striker that is prized for his finishing. On the back post, Diogo Jota is playmaking winger with pace, technical ability, and finishing skills in droves.
The first two players present a real threat, something Arteta noted in his pre-match press conference. “They link with each other really well. Their understanding, their movement, the partnership that they have… they are a big threat. I think Raul, the way he’s settled in the country and the player he’s become is as well because of the structure that he has in the team that his manager has created, and the players around him as well. Adama, I know him from his time at Barcelona, and he’s a player that can unlock the door at any moment in the game.”
To back up that front, they offer a very balanced midfield that plays box-to-box and really helps link up with the attack on the counter with technical midfielders like Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves, as well as a center defender that is more than capable of picking out the long ball to the wings in Conor Coady. It’s a similar feeling ask to what Arteta often looks to Luiz to produce for Arsenal.
“I think they have shown in the past few years how consistent they have been with their performances. They are a group of players, and a club with a manager that have been doing exactly the same thing for many years and you can see their style of play, and a very clear identity of what they want to do,. They have been recruiting exactly the players they need in the positions to do what they want to do. They are a really difficult side to beat.”
Arteta is aware of the challenge that lies aahead of him and the need for a result away at The Molineux. Away matches have been far from productive for Arsenal, but with games behind closed doors, the element of opposing fans is removed, and away sides have taken advantage of it. Even Arsenal has managed to get two wins in their 4 away games since the restart.
In recent matches, Arsenal have shifted to a fluid 3-4-3 formation with wingbacks to help defend and transition the ball through the wings. Today’s match up lends itself to exactly that. With a need to limit the times Arsenal turns the ball over in the midfield in a bad position, they will look to through the wings as much as possible.
It is a big day for whomever occupies the Gunner’s left side and has the challenge of shutting down Adama Traore. Kieran Tierney was called into action in the first round against Wolves and did an admirable job but has been shifted into the left wingback role lately. This could mean Arteta gives the responsibility to Sead Kolasinac and Tierney to handle.
Predicted lineup: Martinez, Kolasinac, Luiz, Mustafi, Tierney, Xhaka, Ceballos, Bellerin, Aubameyang, Nketiah, Pepe
It won’t be an easy day, but win and Arsenal are back in contention with a chance to make something happen.