Tactical Points from Arsenal’s brilliant win at Wolves
By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst)
A dogged performance and hopefully one which sets the template for future away games against the top sides in the division.
Formation wise, it was pretty much on expected lines with a few tweaks in personnel on both sides. With Pepe unavailable, Arteta felt Saka could make the difference on the right-hand side despite not playing there too often. Wolves, on the other hand, went with Traore as the second striker rather than the wily Jota to partner Jimenez upfront.
Wolves’ gameplan was pretty evident in the first couple of minutes with Jimenez holding the ball and releasing Traore in behind our defence. Arsenal’s centre-backs were sloppy aerially in the early stages which gave the home team half-chances but once things settled down, they looked very solid.
Wolves’s triangular midfield pretty much nullified Arsenal’s double pivot so Arsenal were forced to distribute the ball out wide. Another part of Wolves’s pressing was the attention on Luiz when he had the ball which meant that Mustafi and Kolasinac saw a lot of the ball in the first half but their lack of quality in their distribution forced them to go long, leaving Nketiah chasing scraps.
With the midfield and wing-backs cancelling each other out, Saka and Aubameyang had a big role to play. Saiss and Boly, Wolves’s left and right centre-backs preferred to maintain the defensive line rather than mark the wide forwards which meant Saka and Aubameyang had ample time to receive the ball in the half-spaces and drive forward.
Saka and Cedric were playing together for the first time and weren’t on the same wavelength, so this tactic was effective only on the left flank with most of Arsenal’s attacks in the first half a result of Auba and Tierney linking up well.
The impact of the drinks break in both halves of this game was very apparent. The tempo was really slow before the first half drinks break and much better after the break. Much like the Norwich game, Arsenal were very sluggish after the interval and unnecessarily surrendered possession to invite pressure on themselves.
Arsenal kept getting physical with Traore and Jimenez which prevented them from linking up with teammates, by crowding them out, which left Jimenez isolated most of the game.
Wolves are at their best when their opponents attack in numbers because that leaves spaces for them to capitalise on and counter-attack. Emery’s side in the last three games against Wolves were always open with a big gap between midfield and defence which Wolves capitalised on with great effect. Arteta didn’t make the same mistake and the fact that Traore had to be moved to right wing-back to accommodate other attackers would have been a win in itself.
One of the reasons why Maitland-Niles seems suited to the full-back positions is how well he defends in one-on-one situations and this was very important on the left against Traore. His body shape was oriented towards protecting the outside line thus forcing Traore to cut in which is not his strength and limited his influence on the game considerably.
As Wolves tried to force the pace late on, there were more mistakes from them, and Arsenal’s fresh faces in attack capitalised to score the second goal. Despite the impact of the substitutions, I would argue that Torreira could have come on for Ceballos earlier to freshen up the midfield and bring more solidity.