Wolves secured a much-needed victory in an action-packed game against Arsenal on Tuesday evening. The home side fell behind to a fine finish from Nicolas Pepe, only for the game to turn on its head on the stroke of half time. David Luiz tripped Willian Jose, meaning he was sent off and Ruben Neves equalised from the spot. Wolves then took the lead early in the second half thanks to a stunning long-range strike from Joao Moutinho. Arsenal goalkeeper Leno was also given his marching orders following a deliberate handball outside of the penalty area meaning Wolves saw out the victory against nine men.
Wolves (4-2-3-1): Patricio, Semedo, Coady, Boly, Kilman, Moutinho, Neves, Traore, Podence, Neto, Jose (Subs Used: Vitinha, Dendoncker, Silva)
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Luiz, Cedric, Partey, Xhaka, Saka, Smith-Rowe, Pepe, Lacazette (Subs Used: Gabriel, Runarsson, Aubameyang)
There was certainly some head scratching when the Wolves line up was revealed, as it was far from obvious which formation Nuno had opted for. Many assumed that he would stick with a back three, and Adama Traore would slot in at right wing-back where he ended the game against Crystal Palace. However, it was instead a back four with Max Kilman playing in the unfamiliar left back position. The exciting trio of Traore, Podence and Neto supported Willian Jose in attack in his first Molineux appearance. Meanwhile, Ruben Neves replaced Leander Dendoncker in midfield. Arsenal had injury problems of their own, but Bukayo Saka returned to their starting eleven after a period on the side-lines. Elsewhere, captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was back on the bench for the visitors.
Arsenal could have had the lead within thirty seconds as Saka got the better of Max Kilman and hit the post one on one with Rui Patricio. They continued to dominate early on as Saka again forced a save out of Patricio before finally finding the net, only for the goal to be ruled out due to a marginal offside in the build-up. But Arsenal did eventually take the lead, aided by extremely poor defending from Semedo, Neves and Coady. Wolves did, however, respond well to falling behind and forced a number of corners (or throw ins according to Craig Pawson), with Max Kilman going close. The game then turned on its head on the sroke half time with the penalty incident and red card, Wolves knew they had the game in their hands.
Arsenal shored up their defence in the second half, bringing on centre-back Gabriel, but that was not enough to stop Joao Moutinho giving Wolves the lead from long-range. Wolves too made a slight tactical tweak at half time, as they pressed Arsenal higher up the pitch, ultimately winning the ball back on numerous occasions. This is an element that has been lacking to Wolves’ game recently, much to the frustration of supporters. Wingers Adama Traore and Pedro Neto dropped deeper when out of possession in order to prevent Arsenal creating overlaps down the flanks, something they did to great success for the majority of the first half. Meanwhile, Daniel Podence pushed higher up the pitch and pressed the ball with Willian Jose, meaning Wolves adopted a 4-4-2 formation when out of possession. This is something that worked to great effect and could be used more in the future, but Wolves’ task was of course made easier by having the numerical advantage. This was particularly evident in the closing stages of the game, when fans had never been so pleased to see the ball be played sideways and backwards. Pedro Neto and Vitinha both had chances to put the game beyond doubt, but neither could find the net.
A disastrous start to the game was compounded by a very avoidable goal to concede. Pepe had the better of Nelson Semedo, who was far too weak defensively, and ended up the wrong side of the Arsenal winger and ultimately on the floor. Pepe also got the better of Ruben Neves who saw the ball go straight through his legs before a finish of real quality from the Ivorian international, leaving Patricio flat-footed on his line. Conor Coady could have made a better attempt to block the shot too, but he turned his back as Pepe let fly, an unwanted trait to his game which he must eradicate.
Penalty and Luiz Red Card
The turning point in the match that saw Wolves given a huge lifeline just before half time. Daniel Podence played through Willian Jose who was clipped by David Luiz when one on one with the goalkeeper. Referee Craig Pawson pointed to the spot and Luiz was sent off for denial of a goalscoring opportunity. Neves duly dispatched the spot kick into the top corner and the momentum and belief was certainly with Wolves for the second half.
Shortly into the second half, Joao Moutinho lit up Molineux with a moment of magic. He unleashed a powerful drive from 30 yards that went in off the post to give Wolves the lead. It was his first goal at Molineux, and Nuno quite rightly stated afterwards ‘our only sorrow was that the Southbank was not behind it’.
Leno Red Card
Wolves’ task became a whole lot easier with just fifteen minutes to go as Arsenal goalkeeper Leno rushed out of his penalty area and beat Adama Traore to the ball but handled it in the process. This meant Arsenal were down to nine men and Wolves knew the game was firmly in their grasp.
Man of the Match – Joao Moutinho
After fierce criticism following the defeat at Crystal Palace, Joao Moutinho turned in a performance of the highest quality against Arsenal. After picking up a yellow card just minutes into the match, he could have been forgiven for shying away, however the Portuguese international used his class and experience to guide Wolves through. After his wonder strike which ultimately won the game for Wolves, Moutinho grew in statue and began to dominate the midfield in a way he hadn’t done in recent games. He certainly seems to benefit from the more attack minded system, allowing him to be creative, get the ball higher up the pitch and influence the game.
Wolves certainly had luck on their side, but perhaps they had earned their luck following the bad run in the past weeks. Wolves have been poor since Jimenez’s horrific injury, there is no hiding from that. But there have been instances in games where Wolves have not picked up the points they have deserved, particularly against Aston Villa and Tottenham. Now with the addition of Willian Jose, players returning from injury and a much-needed victory on the board, things begin to look on the up once more. Wolves still have plenty of work to do in both league and cup in the coming months, but this win will give players, staff and fans the lift everyone desperately needed.