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Defensive Masterclass, Saka’s Influence And Two Incredible Goals: Tactical Breakdown of Arsenal’s Win Over Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves vs Arsenal, Arsenal Wolves

What a win in the Wolves vs Arsenal game! Never did I ever thought that we would win away, in recent times, against a team like Wolves, they have one of the best defensive records at home in the Premier League this season. They had a week to prepare for the game whilst we played Norwich a couple of days ago.

Wolverhampton Wanderers hosted the Wolves vs Arsenal fixture at the Molineux Stadium on Saturday and the Gunners came away with a surprising 2-0 win. With this win Arsenal have further cemented their chances of finishing within the top-six this season and subsequent validation has come in the form of global bookmakers online like the best South African online casinos who have started offering favourable odds on Arsenal’s chances of finishing within the top-four this season.

On to the tactics, then. It was a surprise to see Bukayo Saka playing on the right, Arteta probably thought of playing him as an inverted winger like Riyad Mahrez for Manchester City. With the ball, we went for the usual 3-2-5 formation.

Nevertheless, Saka was given the freedom to drop deep into the midfield to receive balls from David Luiz. This was done to create space for Cedric Soares to make runs into the box and look for crosses to Aubameyang. It was risky playing Saka and Cedric together and it was visible in the first half as both players struggled. There was a lack of communication between them but, it was their first time playing together.

Wolves vs Arsenal, Bukayo Saka
(Photo by CATHERINE IVILL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

David Luiz played in his usual role- positioning himself in the middle of the back-three. Tierney played in his routine winger role and was given the objective of crossing the ball from the left. Granit Xhaka was instructed to drop deep to receive the ball from Martinez. As usual, Mustafi was given the freedom to bring the ball forward. Without the ball, we went for a 4-2-3-1 formation with Aubameyang and Saka dropping to cover the wide spaces and Nketiah as the sole striker.

Wolves, on the other hand, went for a purely counter-attacking approach, it’s their usual way of scoring goals. On paper, they went for the regular 3-5-2 formation. Due to the surprise exclusion of Diogo Jota, Nuno went for a front 2 of Raul Jimenez and Adama Traore. Traore was given the freedom to roam anywhere in the Arsenal half.

When in possession of the ball, Wolves switched between 3-1-4-2 and 3-2-3-2. There wasn’t any standard formation as they often looked for counter-attacking opportunities. Every time Traore had the ball, three Arsenal players converged on him, all three players on the left side (except Xhaka) pounced on Traore. Therefore, Traore had to cut inside and occasionally play as the second striker. This was certainly not his preferred role.

Without the ball, Wolves switched between 5-3-2 and 5-1-2-2 with the hope that the wing-backs would cause problems for Arsenal’s full-backs and wingers. Every time they had a throw-in deep in the Arsenal half, Willy Boly often occupied the space in between the two central defenders to provide an extra aerial threat. Wolves often tried closing off the left side to prevent Saka and Cedric from doing too much damage. That is why Saka had to drop deep to drag a Wolves player with him.

The first goal by Saka was a perfectly timed volley, which was also the first Premier League goal for the 18-year-old. Wolves have rarely conceded goals in the first half, conceding zero goals in 15 of the last 16 games. A deflection off Tierney’s cross landed perfectly for Saka, who volleyed it home.

The second half was when Wolves stepped up a gear with Diogo Jota subbed on for Dendoncker. With Jota coming in, Traore was instructed to stay wide. However, Arteta stuck to his game-plan, he kept sending three players after Traore. Maybe, he learned from the mistakes Pep Guardiola made when Manchester City lost to Wolves earlier in the season with Traore scoring two goals.

Pedro Neto was brought on to form a front three comprising of Jota, Jimenez, and himself. Yet, they couldn’t break the Arsenal defence, Mustafi kept tackling from behind any opposition player who came near him while, David Luiz kept blocking shots, like the one he blocked off Diogo Jota in the 63rd minute. And as usual, Emiliano Martinez was at his best.

Adama Traore should’ve scored in the 65th minute when he was one-on-one with the Arsenal goalkeeper, but Martinez compelled Traore to chip the ball by closing in and the shot went well over the Arsenal goal. Martinez also intercepted a brilliant cross meant for Jimenez. He’s certainly been one of the star performers of the Wolves vs Arsenal game.

Wolves kept looking dangerous until the drinks break in the 70th minute, it was Arsenal all the way after that. With the introductions of Willock, Lacazette, and Bellerin, the Gunners looked to attack more. That bore fruit as Willock placed a beautiful low-ball to Lacazette and the Frenchman didn’t disappoint. By then, Wolves had given up.

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Starting with Saka on the right and substituting Maitland-Niles for Tierney on the left, Arteta has shown us that he is not afraid of experimenting with players at various positions. Moreover, in a tense situation like this where every game is a must-win, the Spaniard has constantly been proving to us that he is not scared of taking bold decisions.

Coming to statistics, possession was somewhat even between the teams (51% for Wolves, 49% for Arsenal). They had more shots on goal (10) and won more aerial duels (56.7%), but we had more shots on target (5), more tackles (29) and more interceptions (11). A strong showing on both ends of the field from us. Leicester, bring it on!

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