Iiiiiiiiit’s matchday! Always a day that is both exciting and terrifying because in 12 hours time we’ll know that Arsenal have either buggered up another opportunity to get points on the board, or they’ll have made this weekend a heck of a lot better by beating Wolves. But in order to do that it feels like we’re going to have to do that rarest of things for this Arsenal team: score goals from open play.
As fans we haven’t seen us hit the back of the net in the Premier League – penalty aside – since 4th October. That is nearly two months!! And it’s been bloody depressing to watch and today we’re coming up against a good Wolves side with whom we haven’t beaten at home since they returned to the league.
This feels like a very stern test indeed and my gut tells me that it is going to make for a frustrating watch tonight. Wolves changed their system to a back four against Southampton last week but I think Nuno will go back to a back three, look to us to press and then hit us on the counter. He has the players to do it too. Traore is rapid and strong and as long as we can keep him quiet then we might have a chance of picking up all three points, but in Podence on the other side of the attacking trio – assuming Nuno does go back to a back three – they also have a tricky player with a bit of pace who likes to dribble. So when the ball yurns over we will need to ensure they don’t have too much green grass to run in to.
Which is why I’m a little bit nervous today, because I do feel like in order to break down this tough Wolves defence – similar in strength to our own – we are going to need to put them under more pressure higher up the pitch. Wolves haven’t scored many goals this season but their defence is as strong as ours has been and so I don’t know that they will look to press us high so we draw them out and hit them on the counter. If I’m right, it means that we need to be the ones to press Wolves higher up the pitch to beat them by turning over the ball in their half to retain pressure on them, like Leicester did a few weeks ago. That means our fullbacks/wing backs need to press high on their wing backs and our attack and midfield need to press high from the front. If we can force Wolves back to their own box it will ensure we keep the pressure on them and hopefully we can crack the tough nut that they are.
I was also looking at the other games they have lost this season and they’ve been defeated at home to Man City under a similar approach, as well as away to West Ham, in which the Hammers has 36% possession, which suggests to me they sat back, let Wolves have the ball and ensured their shape would remain until they were ready to hit Wolves on the counter. I just don’t see us giving Wolves that much ball though and I think we’ll look to stamp our authority on the game. That means we might be vulnerable on the counter and that’s why I would play players who can handle those individual one-on-one duels. The problem with the Villa game was that I think Arteta didn’t play the situation, he played the players who had performed for him the previous week. That didn’t work and Aston Villa gave us a bit of a pasting. I think today calls for Arteta to look at which players could do the most damage for Wolves, or protect us against that counter, which is why I’d go with Leno in goal, Bellerin at right back, Tierney at left back, but then I wonder if he’ll mirror Wolves’ back three by giving us a back three too. If he doesn’t then I think we’ll have to pick Gabriel and probably Luiz rather than Holding. I know I have been critical of Holding this season, but he has been good, although this game feels like one that isn’t quite right for him. He’s a guy who thrives when there isn’t a requirement to press higher; he is better as a penalty box defender heading and clearing balls away. If he’s in a foot race he will lose, which is why I’d go with Luiz or Mustafi ahead of Holding.
If Arteta goes with a three or a four I think that should be his defensive selection, but if it is a four then I’m hoping we’ll see Saka left and Auba up top. There isn’t really anybody in form to play the number 10 and Pepe’s suspension probably means Willian continues to stink out the right hand side, with Xhaka and Ceballos in the midfield. But if he goes with a back three then I think it might be Tierney in at left centre back, Saka as a wing back, then Aubameyang on the left, Lacazette through the middle and Willian wide right. Whatever combination it is, without Partey or Pepe it doesn’t feel like there’s too much excitement in the team. Arteta can lean on Elneny and maybe the Egyptian will come in to midfield, but all that will do is provide somebody to cover space. It doesn’t give us that creative spark that we so desperately need.
And we do need something to go our way tonight. We need some kind of situation, incident, mistake, etc, to fall to us for us to get out of the current lack of chance creation funk. It is Arteta’s first period in which he’s faced a very proper test and so far we haven’t exactly passed with flying colours. But I still have hope and faith that he will get us out of it and I hope that starts this evening with a victory against Wolves.
Catch you all tomorrow.