Wolves vs Arsenal: How can Arsenal overcome Wolves' impenetrable backline?
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
A six pointer against Wolves. Not something I thought I'd ever say, but I guess that reflects both how far we've fallen from grace, and how far they've developed as a club in the last few years.
With a six point gap separating the two sides, a defeat would surely end any hope for Arsenal securing a place in the top six this season. A win, however, would close that gap to a mere three points, and suddenly the prospect of maintaining our status as a top six side looks very feasible. A draw would be, well, very predictable, and is probably the most likely outcome given the two sides' tendency to produce stalemates this season- 13 draws a piece at the moment.
Since the restart, Wolves have turned games they previously struggled to grind out three points in, into victories. Three games played, three wins, no goals conceded and four goals scored. Not exactly the league's entertainers this season, but they're getting the job done. In fact, in these three games, they've managed to reduce the opponent to a total of 1.23 xG, averaging out at 0.41 per 90 minutes. Basically, they're incredibly good at keeping the opposition from creating anything of note against them, and rely on the pace and dribbling ability of Adama Traore to create a single good chance, usually for Raul Jiminez, to get the goal they need to secure all three points. Not a lot else tends to happen in their games. An effective strategy in the short-term, but not necessarily sustainable when they come up against the better offensive teams (they're three wins have come against three of the current bottom five).
So, if we're able to suppress Adama Traore, we may be able to suppress their entire threat. Sead Kolasinac is unlikely to be able to deal with the Spaniard's direct running and electric speed, so sticking with the back three, with Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka on that left hand side, could well be crucial. In fact, matching Wolves' shape could be a way to counter their strengths and see us breakthrough their currently impenetrable defence.
Isolating their back three with the pace of our front three could well be effective, and forcing them to dictate the play by surrendering possession could leave them unstuck. Not the way Arteta wants his side to play (having stressed his desire for his team to impose themselves on countless occasions), but adapting to the opposition in this game is a must if we want all three points. We've implemented a stringent pressing system in the first halves of our last two games, and no doubt Wolves will want us to do that again. We shouldn't.
As for our line-up, I'm expecting rotation again as Arteta looks to deal with this congested fixture list, whilst also sticking with the 3-4-3 shape that has served us well in recent games and seems to suit the personnel at our disposal. In our back three, despite Shkodran Mustafi's good recent form, I'd like to see Rob Holding come back in from the start after impressing of late, whilst David Luiz will start in the middle of the three, a role in which he can definitely thrive. Kolasinac has looked ill-suited to the left sided centre-back role, with his unadventurous passing slowing down our build-up, allowing Tierney to drop back there despite thriving as the wing-back (accommodating for starboy Saka).
Unpopularly, I'd stick by Hector Bellerin as our right-wing-back. Despite his poor final ball against Norwich, the fact we saw him getting in behind and into dangerous positions was encouraging, and its a matter of time before he rediscovers his productivity again. Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos will continue their encouraging partnership as our pivot despite the availability of Lucas Torreira, whilst Saka should come back in on that left-hand-side.
As for our front three, I expect Eddie Nketiah and Nicolas Pepe to rotate back into the side after they were rested on Wednesday, alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Predicted Line-Up: Martinez, Holding, Luiz, Tierney, Bellerin, Xhaka, Ceballos, Saka, Pepe, Nketiah, Aubameyang.
Score Prediction: Wolves 1-1 Arsenal