Tactical Points from Arsenal's thrilling win over Wolves
By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst)
An edgy, gritty come-from-behind victory against a potential rival as the youngest team in the league passed an important test in the quest for the Champions League.
After everything that happened at Molineux (during and after), Wolves were expected to be out for revenge and started this game very differently from the reverse fixture. They came out of the blocks pressing high up the pitch, congesting the central areas to prevent Arsenal from building out from the back.
The big difference from the reverse fixture was the introduction of Moutinho in midfield for Wolves. This allowed them to play through Arsenal’s press much easier and this allowed the likes of Podence to drift into the spaces to hurt the home team in the final third. On the other side, Arsenal’s press was neither coherent nor effective as they were caught too deep with hand gestures from all parties, not helping matters.
The mistake and the subsequent goal conceded seemed to spark the home side. The press became frantic as every pass was closed down and in response, Wolves retreated into their defensive shell even more.
Arsenal’s buildup was still not good as the centre-backs were forced to be direct because of the lack of passing options ahead of them. The back three of Wolves are not the quickest so the direct route was always an option but the dangerous moments started to arrive when playing through the lines. Lacazette dropped deeper and deeper to offer a central option as there was no joy in the wide areas and as Odegaard started to drift all over the pitch to unsettle the pivot, Arsenal were dominating. Despite the large shot count, a large number of the so-called ‘dangerous situations’ didn’t result in good chances as everything broke down around the edge of the box.
Having written a lot about Xhaka’s evolving role, the first half was a marker for the downside of making him a more box-to-box type of midfielder. Wolves are a massive threat in transitions and were causing a lot of issues from turnovers with Xhaka caught upfield as Podence had ample time to be a threat with his pace with Tierney occupied in dealing with the rapid Semedo. This is also a function of how a 3-4-3 matches up with a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 when wing-backs come into play.
The Swiss international’s role changed in the second half he drifted around the pitch more as Arsenal chased the game. At times, he sprayed the ball around or made late dashes into the box or linked up with forwards around the box but from a team point of view, he was never lacking in effort throughout.
The substitutions changed the game but it was also the change of system to a 3-5-2 as Arsenal choked Wolves centrally and kept creating turnovers with Nketiah featuring prominently. The risk with Pepe and Saka as wing-backs was always going to be there and Wolves focussed their counter-attacks along their left but Ben White’s reading and assuredness allowed him to deal with large spaces rather comfortably.