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Gunner Thoughts Matches

Arsenal-Wolves: Battle of blanks?

Two teams struggling to score, two teams looking for a result to steady the ship. What will the outcome be?

There are six teams within the Premier League that have yet to reach double-digit goals on the season. Two of them are Arsenal and Wolverhampton in 10th and 14th place respectively, the other four are the four teams bottoming in the league.

It won’t be the type of company either Wolverhampton or Arsenal had intended on keeping this season. After completing a late season run, beating Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea, Arsenal finished at a peak, claiming the FA Cup and a precious spot in the Europa League. That run of form would continue as they beat Liverpool for a second time in the Community Shield, however, the method in which those matches were won seemed unsustainable for a complete season.

In the matches against Manchester City and Liverpool, to end the season, Arsenal were thoroughly dominated in terms of possession and shots. It was something they were willing to concede in order to stay compact, limit the amount of quality chances, and keep the margins tights while seeking ways to effectively capitalize on their own meager share of opportunities. It worked a treat, the matches were won, but it never felt like the ticket for winning matches week in and week out throughout a complete Premier League season.

To do that, Arsenal would have to be the attacker, be the dominant force. They would need to impose their own play onto teams that came into the match content with a draw and looking to sucker in Arteta’s squad much the same way Arteta dispatched Pep and Klopp’s sides. This is where Arsenal have faltered.

Arteta has reached his first hiccup — of many if he has a long managerial career — as a manager, and he needs to vault his side over the hurdle. I believe he is finding that creating an attacking structure, potentially with a few missing pieces, isn’t as easily accomplished through hands-0n management the way bolstering the defense was when he arrived.

This stagnation and lack of attack has resulted in Arsenal winning just 7 points since the start of October and scoring only 3 Premier League goals. To say Arsenal are in desperate need of a performance would probably be an understatement, but given the way the league is shaking out around both Arsenal and Wolves; 3 points any way, any how would feel just as satisfactory.

If Arsenal find a way to win and pickup three points at home, it would catapult them up the table and level with Everton currently in 6th place. A grimy win may not appease the inner starvation for footballing beauty Arsenal supporters are craving be satiated, but Arsenal sit at a point where grinding out a few results in the next couple games puts them right back in the mix, buying them and Arteta more time to sort out the long term structure and tactics needed to continue progressing forward.

As Arteta feels a bit of heat, and fans cope with their frustrations, finding a way to appease on the table will certainly buy Mikel more time to figure out how to get Aubameyang the service he needs, get Arsenal to a January transfer window and potential moves, and give his team more time to figure out how they bring the attacking threat they have shown in the Europa League, to the Premier League.

3 points would be huge versus a side that Arteta claimed a staple win against early in his tenure, but it’s a side that possesses the quality needed to win matches and score goals. It’s setting up to be a tight game with the potential to see one or both sides’ fans frustrated once more as they watch their team grind through another ninety minutes.

Lineup

After struggling against Leeds, followed by a fantastic outing against Molde, selecting the lineup for this match will be a really interesting challenge. Against Molde, we saw Arteta deploy a 4-4-2 system that quickly shifted into a 4-2-3-1 when Lacazette dropped into the midfield, almost like a number 10.

We could see Arteta use the same system once more against Wolves to try and provide two central midfielders in the pivot that can help shield the back line, while using two wide wingers and outside backs to progress their attack into the 4-2-3-1 shape in the build up, and eventually the 2-3-5 attacking shape we have seen Arteta favor. However, with a lengthy list of potential injuries, Arteta will likely have fewer options than he prefers. According to the most recent Team News from Arsenal:

Mohamed Elneny
Tested positive for Covid-19 while on international duty with Egypt. Mo has been cleared to return to full training and is available for selection.

Sead Kolasinac
Tested positive for Covid-19 while on international duty with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sead is currently asymptomatic and following protocols ahead of returning to training. He is unavailable for Sunday’s match.

Thomas Partey
Left thigh. Sustained strain to left thigh during Aston Villa (h) on November 8. Thomas is progressing with his rehabilitation ahead of returning to full training.

Nicolas Pepe
Suspended. Serving first of three match Premier League suspension following red card against Leeds United.

Bukayo Saka
Right leg impact. Sustained dead leg during the match at Leeds last Sunday. Bukayo has returned to full training and is being assessed. Decision to be made on participation ahead of Sunday’s match.

Willian
Left calf. Slight calf issue sustained during the match at Leeds last Sunday.Willian is fit and available for selection.

With Partey and Saka being assessed late, and even labeled as ‘doubtful’ in the match program, it is likely that Arteta will be forced to look elsewhere for quality. Willian has struggled since arriving at Arsenal, but could be an option, and the return of Elneny could bolster the midfield pivot if Arteta looks for good balance and structure. These variables, make predicting a lineup tough, but I will give it a go!

This is my guess at the side and it’s based on the assumption that Saka and Partey will miss out once again as they return to full-fitness.

Leno in net along with a backline that is starting to become familiar when Arteta opts for a back four. As decent as Rob Holding has acquitted himself, Luiz offers more when it comes to facilitating the attack from the back. Tierney and Bellerin retain their places.

In the midfield, a central pairing of Xhaka and Elneny. It’s far from the most attacking duo, in fact it’s very little attacking, but both offer stability, relative consistency, and the ability to drop into the backline to help, which invariably allows the outside backs to join the attack. Hector Bellerin has been Arsenal’s best attacking threat this year, for better or worse, so he will need to be involved once more. I would expect Elneny to drop deep right, while Luiz and Gabriel shift to the left when Arsenal have the ball creating that progressive, stable structure. Elneny has done a fantastic job this year balancing out whoever is put next to him so I will be expecting that to continue.

On the outside of that pivot I selected Nelson and Willian. Pepe is out, Saka is out, Martinelli is out, and it leaves few options. If Willian is available, I expect him to play. Sorry.

More interesting is Reiss Nelson. After putting his best foot forward once more in the Europa League, it’s time he be given a shot to prove himself at the next level. Putting him in this position could offer him a major opportunity to establish himself as real starting option with other wingers out through injury and suspension.

Finally, up top I have opted for twin strikers Aubameyang and Lacazette. I think many people will be displeased to see Lacazette in the starting lineup, but with his recent usage and very ‘okay’-grade performance dropping into the midfield, it would allow Aubameyang to stay high with Wolves’ last defender. We have seen Aubameyang succeed in a two-striker set up, hopefully that can continue. Is it starting to feel like we are throwing darts at the wall? Yeah, I get it.

If Saka is able to be selected, the midfield will change. I believe he will need to be selected to offer more attacking threat to the midfield and a be a person that can play in the tight, half-spaces.

Prediction:

I think this is going to be a tough one. I have seen little life from Arsenal in the Premier League, and little reason to believe they can make the leap from Europa League brilliance to Premier League competitiveness. With both sides struggling to put points on the board, this could get cagey, could get ugly, and could definitely be a grind. Strap in, get a bit of extra caffeine in the system, and prepare for a bit of a soul burner. I don’t expect this to be a result to write home about, nor one that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

With that said, Arsenal are at home and I expect them to get something from the game. I’m predicting a 1:1 draw.

Ready to be proven wrong.

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