Last night I afforded myself a little post match fist bump after it was confirmed that the Scum had been beaten by Burnley, meaning four defeats out of their last five, but this morning I am back on the Wagon of Fear as it is Arsenal’s turn to play one of their games in hand against a difficult and in-form Wolves team.
Bruno Lage played down talk of ‘revenge’ and the bad blood caused by Neves’ comments about us celebrating too much, then the subsequent storm in a teacup brought about by the Wolves Twitter feed after they beat Tottenham, but my hope is that the Arsenal players are ready, willing and able to deliver a proper performance tonight and then hopefully give it some more with the celebrating against a team who you can legitimately call a rival in Wolves.
The Scum’s loss to Burnley has opened up an opportunity though and that is partially fuelling my fear because how many times have we seen over the years, when an Arsenal team has an opportunity to grasp, they flail at said opportunity, eh? Too many for me to want to recall. But tonight is a big game, a massive game, another cup final and Arsenal simply must show up and deliver a top performance.
Like I’ve said though, it won’t be easy and when you consider that we haven’t beaten Wolves at home in our last four games in the league, dating back to February 2011, it shows just how much of a bogey team they have been for us at home in recent years. Last season they came to the Emirates, outplayed us, deserved to pick up all three points and at the time things looked pretty bleak for Arsenal and Arteta. But a lot has changed since then – coming up to a year and a half ago now – and Arteta has a team more in his image, more defensively resolute, with a steel about us that will hopefully stand us in good stead tonight.
We know how Wolves will line up. They will be compact and strong in a back three, give us few opportunities and look to hit us on the counter. If they get the first goal that could be all she wrote, as they say, because they are a side who knows how to sit in and defend in a low block and it could be a long night if they go ahead.
What could also make it a long night is if we are down to ten men, something that has happened in our last two games against Wolves, albeit in some weird situations that we probably won’t ever see again. I’m hoping we don’t see the likes of which again tonight and keeping ten men on the pitch, as well as not giving away anything stupid like needless penalties or silly goals, will have a big baring on this game I think.
That’s because whilst Wolves are a side who are very good defensively, they also don’t score that many goals, so if you cut out defensive mistakes, the hope is that you can limit their chances and therefore build yourself a good platform to pick up the three points. I’ve seen a few suggest a draw wouldn’t be the worst result in the world but when you look at how many tough fixtures we still have to play (all the top teams), it feels like we need to be making hay whilst the sun is shining. We have to hope it is shining tonight on Arsenal today, then metaphorically as well whilst under those floodlights.
As for the team, well, it mostly picks itself I would have thought. Wolves love those long diagonals and so we can expect our fullbacks to be targeted, which is why we need to be bringing Tomiyasu back in for his aerial presence. I think Arteta will and I suspect that’s why he rested him for the Brentford game. It worked and Tomiyaasu must be fresh for this game you would have thought. His inclusion should also enable us to be able to shift our centre halves over a bit when out of possession too and if that means Gabriel can give more support to Tierney on that left hand side, then that would be all the better too.
In midfield it must be Partey and Xhaka but in front of them is where it starts to get interesting. I suspect we all know by now that Laca is a sure-fire bet to play centre forward, but what does Arteta do with those three men behind him? I think he’ll go with Odegaard as he loves the Norwegian and he’s been in sparkling form in recent games. So he can’t be shuffled around. On the right it has to be starboy Saka, but what about that left hand side? Does he bring Martinelli back in or doehe go for Smith Rowe after his impressive performance on Saturday? I’d be leaning to Smith Rowe with the idea that Martinelli can be an impact sub. If you play well, you should be in the team the next game, it should be that simple. Plus, having Martinelli coming on and causing trouble for the last 20 minutes isn’t the worst problem in the world, eh?
Whatever Arteta chooses the important thing is that we start brightly, we show intensity early on, because we’ve all had enough of Arsenal in recent times taking a little to long to get started and then leaving it too late. This season at times we’ve been better, but we need that to really ramp up from now until the end of the season. Get at them, go hard at them, let’s impose ourselves, then see if we can’t get closer to United as the weekend closes in on us.
Up the Arsenal!
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