After a weekend in which teams around us dropped points tonight’s game needs to come in to very sharp focus for Unai Emery and his team. This is because a win against Wolves will bring us not only three valuable points but also provide a valuable psychological boost to the players in terms of the away form that has plagued us this season.
It will also give us a buffer in fourth, putting us two points clear of Chelski and with them going to United at the weekend it could mean that the right results both tonight and on Sunday mean we have clear daylight for a Champions League fourth places finish.
But whilst the target is clear, the journey to get there is anything but, with Wolves providing an opponent that has already beaten United on their own turf in recent weeks and probably could and should have got more when they played us at the Emirates and the game finished 1-1.
Nuno Espírito Santo has got himself – with the help of super agent Jorge Mendes – quite an impressive side and with players like Ruben Neves, Jimenez and Jota they have potent players, with experienced pros like Moutinho and Rui Patricio in goal. This doesn’t look anything like a newly promoted side; this is a team of seasoned professionals who have the quality to be in the division for a few years to come and they are going to have a go at us tonight.
They’ll be massively up for another scalp and with our fragile defence and away form that reads like Porky Pig trying to say the word ‘lemons’, I don’t think there are many Arsenal fans under any illusions that tonight will be a big feat if we come away with a win.
To get that all important ‘W’ Unai is going to have to bin off the Big Hair Midfield and revert back to something a little more established I think. He was surprisingly cagey about giving an update on players yesterday in his press conference, citing the information as potentially beneficial to his opponents if he did, so it does make me wonder what he’s got planned for Wolves tonight. Will he step away from a back three with wing backs and go for a back four? Has he seen something in the many videos of Wolves that he thinks he can exploit?
That would be nice. I just hope he can bring back Xhaka and Torreira in the midfield, because that will go a long way to strengthening us and if those two play I think we’ll all feel a little more comfortable come kick off.
I suspect it’ll be Leno in goal, Sokratis back in and if I had to guess I’d say Koscielny comes out, even though it’s probably Mustafi that deserves to be dropped after his poor showing against Palace. But Koscielny needs to be managed at his age and so I am hoping that Unai takes the call to do so tonight because I think he probably needs a full rest ahead of Valencia at home next Thursday.
Monreal could also come in having missed Sunday’s game and then the decision is on whether we’re operating in a back three or four. If it’s a three with Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles as the wing backs then I’d be ok with that. When you then add Xhaka and Torreira (fingers crossed) ahead of them and three of Auba, Laca, Özil, Mkhi or Iwobi behind, the team feels a little more balanced.
I suspect Özil and Aubameyang might drop from Sunday. Despite both scoring neither were particularly impressive amongst a pretty bad bunch in an Arsenal shirt, but Lacazette will provide a higher press and more intensity as a line striker and given Mkhi and Iwobi haven’t started for a couple of games I have a feeling both will be given an opportunity tonight.
Wolves are a direct team who will look to get front to back very quickly. They will remain compact and let us have the ball in our own half and probably in the midfield, but as soon as the ball turns over I’m expecting to see them drive plenty of bodies forward on the counter. I watched parts of the game at Molineux against United and they sprung United on the counter with bodies a few times so I’m expecting the same tonight. With our back line as susceptible to counters as much – and sometimes it feels more – than many in the Premier League, it feels like there is a blueprint to beat Arsenal on your own turf and they look like they have the personnel to do it.
A draw wouldn’t be the end of the world but it would mean we need to be beating Leicester on Sunday. Arsenal never do things the easy way and I’m not expecting that to start tonight, but if we can find a way to grind out a victory against a very good Wolves team, well, that would be massive.
Come on Arsenal. Do the business tonight!