Prior to the first game after the last international break finished (Watford at home), there was optimism flying around the Black Country as Nuno Santo’s side were taking the Premier League by storm. Since then, we’ve lost three on the bounce for various reasons and we play the last game tomorrow before another international break against a side who are unbeaten in 15 games in all competitions. Even if we do fail to collect anything in North London, all is not lost. We can’t be any lower than 12th before the next round of fixtures kick off in two weeks in time and if you offered that to any Wolves fan at the beginning of the season, they would’ve bitten your arm off.
Saying that, it would be typical Wolves to lose to Watford, Brighton and Spurs in the manner that we did and then get a positive result at high-flying Arsenal. So far this season, Arsenal’s 11 games have had 39 goals whereas ours have only had 23 and five of those came last weekend, so something is going to have to change. Comparison wise, the best game to look at, as it was last week, is the Watford game. Arsenal may well have come away with all three points against Javi Gracia’s side, but that’s not to say they were without fault. It’s precisely that, that we are going to be looking at.
A New Old-Fashioned
Formations seem to come and go in cycles, don’t you think? In recent years we’ve seen 4-2-3-1/3-4-3/4-3-3 formations populating most of the Premier League. Chelsea always seem to be the catalyst as when Conte took over, everyone sort of looked up and thought, oh I fancy a bit of the 3-4-3. Now, with Sarri in charge, many people are having the same thoughts regarding the 4-3-3 formation that is being played. Not Unai Emery, though. The Spaniard has disregarded the more-fancied three at the back and stuck with the formation that took over several years ago, the 4-2-3-1.
Lacazette, Aubayemang and Ozil are three headliners in this Arsenal side, but are they the most important cogs? I don’t think so. Without Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka, it would be fascinating to see how far down the table they would be because they’re often there to tidy up after others. By the same token, both of them have a temper, so if we can get under their skin early doors and rile them up, we could find ourselves 11 vs 10.
Despite both of them being good players, they are not without their flaws and if we can bypass the pair of them in one swoop, we are laughing. The above image is from a long punt upfield from the Watford keeper, the first and second ball are pinged about before this situation arises.
Patience Breeds Gaps
With the ball approaching Deeney, for some unknown reason, both Torreira and Xhaka think its a good idea to close the ball down. Fortunately for them, in this instance, it was without consequence. With our wide players’ tendency to cut inside, if we can shift the ball quick enough, we could potentially see ourselves in a 4 vs 4 situation. It might not happen in the first minute, it might not happen in the first half, but there will be a gap at some point. When it appears, we need to take full advantage.
Another angle we can explore to get the all-important first goal and something, like most weeks, that will be huge for us are counter attacks. When Arsenal attack, they do so in numbers which often leaves just the two centre-backs to prevent anything, should the possession turnover. Bellerin’s pace helps out a lot, but could Bellerin beat Traore in a foot race? I don’t think so. So, if we end up in the below scenario, we could have a golden opportunity on our hands.
We Will Have At Least One Chance To Expose Arsenal
Only an overhit pass changes the dynamic of this. One of the beauties of this attacking phase of play is that there’s not only one great option, there are two. The obvious ball is the one into the enormous amount of space, however, if you look at the position of the Watford man on the shoulder of the last defender, he would be away as well if the ball was played in his direction. At this point in the game, Watford had Deeney, Gray and Success all on the pitch and when you consider the fact that we play with an attacking three from the start, you begin to understand why the opportunities will arise.
We can sit here and talk about Arsenal’s defensive frailties until we’re blue in the face, none of them will matter if we can’t stop their forward line, though. Since firing a blank on the opening day at home to Manchester City, Emery’s side have gone from strength to strength. So much so, they are the third highest goalscorers in the league behind only the aforementioned City and Chelsea. Arsenal seldom do things route one; intricate little passes, normally resulting in a ball out wide before it’s tapped in. You know the type of goal, the one that personifies Arsenal down to a tee. Let me show you.
Discipline Is More Important Than Ever Against A Fluid Arsenal
From a defensive standpoint, we can’t afford for our back five to break when we are in our own half as Arsenal will punish us in the blink of an eye. For example, if you look where Lacazette is, we should probably have Boly and Jonny there to block his movement and on the opposing side, Bennett and Doherty. Immediately that restricts Arsenal’s area to work in the final third, nevertheless, as we saw against Spurs, we are vulnerable if the ball is played in between the lines, so it’s all about finding the right balance.
You’ll notice that there’s no arrows or annotations on the above picture and that’s purely because we all know what’s going to happen. The ball is played in from the right-hand side and Arsenal score. It happens time and time again. Knowing what Arsenal are going to do and stopping Arsenal are two different matters entirely and even if we thwart their starting XI, they have a plethora of talent waiting in the wings. Take Aubmayeng for example, his record when coming on as a sub is outrageous.
It doesn’t really seem fair that they have the ability to bring someone of his calibre off the bench when we have a striker that hasn’t scored a league goal since December. Yes, I know, I do bang on about Bonatini a bit, but all he has to do is score and that’ll keep me quiet for another year or so. Going back to Aubameyang and Arsenal, let’s have some team news.
It’s difficult to see Nuno changing anything from the team that started last week. SofaScore have Jota over Cavaleiro, I’m not convinced, though. Emery, much like Nuno, is unlikely to change anything from the Liverpool game last weekend. Although, again, SofaScore have one change being made in Iwobi coming in for Mkhitaryan. Chances are, the game will likely be won from the bench. My heart is telling me it will be Traore, my head is telling me it will be Ramsey.
A foregone conclusion? Perhaps to some. Not to Nuno and that’s all that matters, he will believe we can beat them and so will the players. If at long last, we can have a bit of conviction in front of goal and take the lead, we will win. If Arsenal score inside the first 15 minutes, anything could happen, literally.
From a tactical point of view, the area where the game will be won and lost is simple. Between the defensive and midfield lines on both teams – Neves and Moutinho got overran last week by the sheer volume of Spurs players and as much as it pains me to say it, it wouldn’t at all surprise me if the same thing happens tomorrow. On the other hand, Cavaleiro, Jota and Costa are all capable of finding and occupying pockets of space and with Torreira and Xhaka’s tendencies, the possibilities are endless. It should be a goodun.
Until the next time.