Premier League action returns tonight as Arsenal go up against Wolves at the Molineux Stadium after a busy transfer deadline day.
Arsenal’s Premier League season has been as dramatic as it has been unexpected, plunged into free fall, shipping goals at one end and unable to score them at the other, they found themselves just points above the relegation zone with fans fearing the worst.
Arteta himself was under scrutiny and there were questions regarding his plans for the Gunners and his ability to dig them out of trouble, but three or four weeks in football is a very long time and Arsenal turned a significant corner that began in December with the defeat of Chelsea.
Let’s not get carried away by thinking that the job is complete just because Arsenal have managed to propel themselves up the table. They could still lose valuable points against unfancied opposition starting with Wolves and have a habit of doing so frequently.
Wolves present another tough test for the Gunners, but their form of late has been seriously short of the standards they have shown since being promoted and it’s hard to work out what has changed. They are still a competitive side with genuine quality in key positions but they haven’t looked as assured and are just two points ahead of Brighton at 17th. Closer examination shows that they are having defensive issues and are unable to find their way in front of the goal.
They have taken four points from five games or four out of an available 15 which constitutes a mini-crisis and as you look at their next seven or eight fixtures, it’s hard to know where they can turn the tide. If Arsenal had to play Wolves, now is as good a time as any, with confidence at a premium and a string of poor performances behind them but Arsenal can’t take anything for granted here.
Wolves welcome an opponent that have had their own issues, one that doesn’t possess all the answers and is capable of causing themselves problems. This is the beginning of the second phase of Arsenal’s season and it could prove critical to their chances of getting further up the Premier League table. Even with key personnel missing, Arsenal contained Manchester United and could have collected another three points from them whilst in the process of exposing the Red Devils’ weaknesses.
The Gunners are likely to be missing players for this encounter with late fitness tests on Tierney and Saka. They have also waved goodbye to Maitland-Niles and Willock until the season’s end, so the list of substitutes will be as interesting as the team itself.
Aubameyang may not make the starting 11 even though he has attended training and Smith Rowe may even be rested in favour of Martin Odegaard who came on briefly against United without making any significant contribution. Thomas Partey is another that is causing concerns having suffered from the effects of cramp and it was clear against Solskjaer’s side that the big man isn’t fully back to his best but I expect him to make his way into the team.
Adama Traore will need some careful attention during this game, as will Daniel Podence who was a nuisance when the teams clashed in November along with Pedro Neto and the excellent Ruben Neves (if fit and available).
Expect the usual high press and counter that Arsenal always seem to merit and an intensity to match the importance of the occasion. Arsenal’s passing needs to be direct and on the money, they have squandered possession, especially against United, and looked incapable of putting more than three passes together over any distance. Arsenal need to show intent and set about Wolves at every opportunity and the midfield’s ability to snuff out any advances and convert them into attack will be needed for the full 90 minutes.
Arteta’s Difficult Choices :
It appears that Arteta may stick with Holding and Luiz who have given string performances individually on the last two occasions, despite their obvious lack of pace. If Partey isn’t available, Wolves will be a lot more comfortable in this encounter. Likewise, if Odegaard gets his debut, it will be interesting to see if Wolves dominate the middle or alternatively if the new man can reveal the true nature of the talent behind the hype.
I’m going to assume that Mikel Arteta will go with his strongest available side but there may be problems if Lacazette hasn’t recovered from his treatment at the hands of Harry Maguire. Not for the first time this year, the United captain should have been arrested for his behaviour which only saw him pick up a token yellow.
Does that mean Nketiah gets another run-out or will we see Balogun appear on the bench? Who replaces Willock and AMN? Surely, Miguel Azeez finally gets an opportunity to show his worth. The dazzling youngster is willing, ready, and available, and I promise that you will finally see what all the fuss is about.
- Following their 2-1 victory at the Emirates in the reverse fixture, Wolves are looking to complete their first league double over Arsenal since 1978-79.
- Arsenal have won eight of their last 10 top-flight away games against Wolves (D1 L1), as many as they had in their previous 30 visits to Molineux (D8 L14).
- Wolves have lost their last two Premier League home games, last losing three in a row at Molineux in November 2018.
- Arsenal have won each of their last three Premier League away games, more than they had in their previous nine on the road (W2 D1 L6). The Gunners haven’t won four consecutive away Premier League games since October 2016 under Arsène Wenger.
- Wolves have kept just one clean sheet in their last 14 Premier League games, doing so in a goalless draw with Chelsea last month. Meanwhile, only Fulham (10) are on a longer current run without a Premier League victory than Wolves (8 – D3 L5).
- Since Christmas Day, Arsenal have averaged 14.9 shots per Premier League game (5.7 on target), and have an expected goals (xG) average of 1.8 per game. Before Christmas, the Gunners were averaging 10.4 shots per game (3.3 on target), with an xG average of 1.1.
- Only Manchester City (13) have conceded fewer goals in the Premier League this season than Arsenal (20), who have shipped just one goal in their last six matches in the competition.
- Since Raúl Jiménez last scored for Wolves at Molineux against Newcastle, eight of their 10 home goals in all competitions have been scored by different players: Rayan Ait Nouri, Daniel Podence x2, Pedro Neto x2, Roman Saiss, Adama Traore, Ruben Neves, Fabio Silva, and Willy Boly.
- Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka has been directly involved in four goals in his last three away Premier League games (2 goals, 2 assists), scoring in his last two. Saka could become the third-youngest player in Premier League history to score in three consecutive away appearances (19y 150d), after Wayne Rooney in 2004 (18y 172d) and Robbie Fowler in 1994 (19y 133d).
- Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette has scored in each of his last three Premier League away games, netting four goals in total. His previous four away goals in the competition came over a period of 25 games between March 2019 and December 2020.
Predicted Side: Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Luiz, Cedric; Partey, Xhaka, Odegaard; Pepe, Lacazette, Martinelli/Aubameyang.
Predicted Result: Arsenal win 1-0