Wellety, wellety, wellety, if there hasn’t been one heck of a clear out at Arsenal this January, eh?
I know there are a fair few loan deals that went out the door this January, which means we still have some futures to sort in the summer, but given where we were at the end of the summer transfer window just a few short months ago, I think we can say that Arsenal did pretty much what it needed to do. Sokratis, Mustafi, Kolasinac, Ozil, all out of the club on a free and if the rumours are also true, we even got a small bit of compensation from Mustafi, which is nice. Given that most of us expected him to see out his contract at the club and therefor we have an expensive asset just sitting in the reserves, the fact we no longer have to pay his wages can be seen as a bonus above all.
For Willock and Maitland-Niles I see this as a bonus too. Both are decent enough players and will get game time. Both will hopefully perform well and if that happens, it is good for Arsenal, because it either means they come back and are more in the managers plans, or it means they have increased their value for the possibility of us moving them on for cash in the summer. So whilst some are grumbling a little because it is Steve Bruce and Sam Allardyce that they are going to be managed by, I am just happy that both are in the Premier League and so will get much needed minutes under their belts.
We didn’t get the left back in that I think we all thought would be useful but the fact the club has been giving Joel Lopez time training in the first team is good. Hopefully he can impress and we can have him as an option. Cedric is second choice left back at the moment and will play tonight in the absence of Tierney, but having a third choice youngster who is left footed is no problem for me. Remember Bellerin was a young player who we had to throw in when Debuchy got injured, so if it happens, I hope Arteta at least considers it and if Lopez has been training with the first team for a while then that’s fine with me.
We now have a more streamlined squad for the remainder of the season and it will also hopefully mean that plenty of players get their minutes. But who gets those minutes tonight will be interesting. This is going to be a tough game, regardless of how poor Wolves’ form is. They are currently bottom of the form guide with no wins in six, two draws and four defeats and have been struggling for goals all season. But let’s not forget this is the Arsenal we’re talking about here and we love to give hope where there is none, so I am expecting a really tough match tonight against a side who have already beaten us at The Emirates. Wolves will look to the creeativity of Pedro Neto to fashion themselves attacking chances and in Traore they have a player who caused us a fair few problems at The Emirates earlier in the season with an assist and generally an impressive display running at our back line. Cedric will most likely start there tonight and so I am expecting this to be a key battleground if I’m honest. If our Portuguese fullback can continue his good run of form then we might be able to stifle what Wolves have going forward, but Traore feels a very different proposition to Rashford. Rashford had an off day but he likes to pick the ball up more centrally and also drift in field, Traore will want to take his man on one-v-one and I fear that Cedric might be caught out.
On the other flank it was Podence that scored and generally caused us problems all evening at home last time we played them and so I think that Nuno Espirito Santo will be seriously considering looking at his two wide men as the threat an opportunity to hit Arsenal on the counter.
I don’t see Wolves coming at us tonight. Much like how we were on the floor mentally when we played them during our bad run, that is where Wolves are at the moment, but the difference is that at home we were expected to have a go at Wolves and that opened up space for them to hit us. And they did a good job. It doesn’t matter that they are at home today, I don’t see them opening up to try to get more goals tonight, so I am expecting a Wolves team who tucks in, plays three at the back and tries to remain defensively sound, whilst hitting us on the break. And if we are over-confident and try too much to press them high, we could end up with metaphorical bloody noses in this match up.
I suspect Arteta will opt for a very similar side to the one that drew against United on Saturday. Leno will start in goal, it will be Bellerin at right back with a central defensive pairing of Holding and Luiz. Personally I would be tempted to rotate Luiz out as I feel like too many games in succession for the Brazilian will result in his usual brain fart antics, but I think Arteta will stick with him. On the left the absence of Tierney means Cedric will play again and in front of them we simply must go with Xhaka and Partey to continue to build the momentum in their partnership.
The next four positions are a little tougher to call. It sounds like Aubameyang is back which is good news, but whether he starts remains to be seen. I think he will because Martinelli was hooked at half time and Arteta will know that Willian won’t deliver on the left or right, so my money would be on a Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang front three. The hope is that Pepe continues his good form and if Saka can make the bench then maybe he can be an impact sub given his hip problem suffered before the United game.
The final question I have is whether the creative spot is taken by Smith-Rowe or Odegaard. I have a sneaky suspicion it will be the Norwegian. Smith-Rowe deserves the starting spot for his form and he played well enough against United, but as we all know, it is a lot to ask him to play in another game just a few days later and so perhaps the fresher legs of Odegaard are a better option for us tonight. Either way, at least we have options, which is what we have wanted all season.
We can feel in a better place going in to tonight’s game but Wolves will still cause us problems and despite the fact we have a good defensive record in the league right now, I still think we might concede, which means it is incumbent on our creative and attacking players to come up with the goods by getting more than one tonight I reckon.
I hope we can.
Catch you all tomorrow.