Arsenal v Wolves Match Preview

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Wolves will look to win away at Arsenal for the first time since 1979 when the two sides meet at the Emirates on Sunday evening. The game kicks-off at 19.15 and will be broadcast live on Sky Sports.

 

Wolves Form

Wolves just fell short of victory last Monday even after amassing 20 shots at goal with nine on target, they were held by Southampton at Molineux, 1-1

A slight change in personnel, with captain Conor Coady missing from the side meant Wolves lined up with a back four, for the first time since May 2017 and for the first time under Nuno. Wolves applied heavy pressure during the second half but couldn’t find a winning goal.  

Theo Walcott put The Saints ahead just before the hour mark after Nelson Semedo was caught napping at the back post. 

For all of Alex McCarthy’s saves, it was a game that Wolves could have also lost however, with Theo Walcott unable to add to his second half goal, missing a one on one with Rui Patricio shortly before Wolves’ equaliser. That came via Pedro Neto who reacted quickest to Raul Jimenez’s strike which cannoned back off the post, Neto who had come off the bench finished well.

Other Wolves chances came through Leander Dendoncker who went close early on and Jimenez also had a goal ruled out for offside in what was a decent performance from a side that missed their captain and that were playing in a completely new system. It wasn’t ideal to go behind again in a game and whilst lacking organisation at the back on occasions, Wolves showed that they can adapt and play with four defenders and it will potentially be something we see again. 

Southampton were the division’s form team yet it was their manager Ralph Hasenhüttl that let out a loud ‘Yes!’ at the final whistle as they managed to resist Wolves’ late pressure. Prior to the International break, Wolves had lost 1-0 away at Leicester City after comfortably beating Crystal Palace 2-0 at Molineux. 


Arsenal Form

Wolves’ hosts have had significantly less rest as they coolly dispatched Molde 3-0 away in Norway on Thursday night. A pretty strong Arsenal team were on show with Nicolas Pepe, Reiss Nelson and 19-year-old Folarin Balogun scoring for The Gunners. 

Scoring three goals was a welcome boost for Mikel Arteta, who has seen his side struggle to score goals this season. In fact Arsenal are level with Wolves on goals scored this term, with nine apiece. Are goals likely on Sunday? Probably not. After impressively beating Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford back at the beginning of November, Arsenal suffered a 3-0 loss to Aston Villa and last weekend, drew 0-0 with Leeds United who had a huge 25 shots at Bernd Leno’s goal. That stat is slightly skewed with Arsenal on the back foot for the majority of the second half as Pepe received a red card for violent conduct after an altercation with Ezgjan Alioski on 51 minutes.  

 

Team News

Wolves will have Conor Coady back available for selection after his period of self-isolation. 

Whilst not necessarily performing badly, Max Kilman and Willy Boly looked like they missed the presence and organisation from Coady on Monday night and with Wolves having played a certain way for so long, things expectedly looked unconvincing at times with Walcott and Stuart Armstrong managing to get in behind the Wolves defence, Wolves were saved by some poor finishing. 

This might not be the game for a more experimental formation however if Nuno can manage to have Neto, Adama Traore, Daniel Podence and Jimenez on the pitch at the same time, surely that will cause any defence problems? For this one though, I think Wolves will revert to a back five with the skipper returning. 

Nuno could go with: Patricio, Boly, Coady, Kilman, Semedo, Dendoncker, Moutinho, Marcal, Traore, Jimenez, Neto.

Neto deserves a start after impressing thus far this season. Whilst Podence also has lots of quality, he seems to be more suited to playing when Wolves have more of the ball. Neto may be better suited to playing on the counter attack, with his direct running and dribbling. Joao Moutinho deserves to get the nod over his younger compatriot after his Man of the Match performance on Monday in a midfield two with Dendoncker. 

Romain Saiss is still unavailable after contracting Covid-19.

In Arsenal’s win over Molde, they lined up with a 4-4-2 formation and gave rests to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Hector Bellerin and Leno who will all likely return for the visit of Wolves. Bukayo Saka and Willian didn’t travel to Norway but should be fit for Sunday’s league game. David Luiz has returned for Arsenal who will likely still be missing Mohamed Elneny and Sead Kolasinac who are self-isolating. New recruit Thomas Partey is also sidelined. 


Head to Head

Since promotion to the Premier League in 2018, Wolves have only lost once to Arsenal in four games. That was the most recent fixture in July at Molineux where Arsenal won 2-0, with goals from Saka and Alexandre Lacazette. Prior to that defeat, Wolves have recorded two 1-1 draws at the Emirates with a 3-1 win at Molineux sandwiched in between. Wolves scored three first-half goals in what was a memorable night at Molineux in April 2019. 

Historically, Arsenal have the upper hand, winning 58 of the 116 meetings. Wolves have won 30 with 28 games ending in stalemate. 


Prediction

With neither side in real goalscoring form during this season’s league campaign, it would suggest that goals will come at a premium this Sunday evening. Wolves should feel in good spirits after Monday’s draw with Southampton and with a relatively good recent record against The Gunners, there should be some optimism. 

Whilst goals have been lacking from Nuno’s side, they have only conceded 10 league goals and with Coady returning this weekend, Nuno will perhaps expect a more classic Wolves performance which starts off with being solid at the back. I’d love it for Wolves to really take the game to Arsenal however barring a huge change in philosophy from the Wolves boss, that won’t happen. That may not be a bad thing though as in this case, playing on the counter attack is probably a good idea, utilising Traore and Neto’s direct dribbling to run at the Arsenal defence. 

Whilst Arsenal will be confident after their midweek win over Molde, their lack of goals will also be of concern and they would probably rather face a large number of other teams than Wolves, who we know don’t concede many goals.

Notably, Arsenal have lost two out of their three league games post Europa League fixtures, losing to both Leicester and Aston Villa. They did manage to beat Manchester United, but that was after resting several key players in a win over Dundalk. Arsenal have had additional problems to deal with this week after their flight back from Norway was cancelled and they were forced to stay another night in Molde, not returning back to London Colney until Friday. 

With Wolves’ skipper returning and given that both teams aren’t in the best goal-scoring form, and have identical goals scored and goals against records this season, a low scoring draw looks likely, with Wolves likely scoring in the second half. A 0-0 draw isn’t out of the question. 

Prediction: 1-1

Taran Dhamrait is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him on Twitter here.