Wolves’ trip to the capital ended in devastating fashion as two late goals punctured Wolves’ top four hopes. With both sides gunning for the Champions league places, it was the Gunners who came out on top, [providing a comfortable cushion from the chasing pack. Wolves were the outside bets to crash the top four party this season, but a loss at the hands of Arsenal all but managed to eliminate these chances entirely.
This was unfortunately a result that we deserved, another opportunity missed, for me. Bruno started with a positive line-up, bringing Hwang in for Dendoncker in what otherwise, was an unchanged side. Bruno seemed to trust the Neves and Moutinho partnership rather than overloading the middle of the park, providing an opportunity for Hwang Hee-Chan to force himself back into contention following an injury lay-off.
Similarly to the Spurs visit, the early Wolves press forced a mistake from the opposition back line, resulting in a dream start for Lage’s men and the travelling supporters as Wolves took the lead after just ten minutes. However, highlights for wolves were few and far between from this moment, there was a particularly alarming gulf in the quality of passing from either side. Arsenal managed to zip the ball around with confidence and accuracy, whereas Wolves opted for the unattractive long-ball tactic, to no avail unsurprisingly.
One key reason for the little success was due to another poor performance from Raul Jimenez. Once again, the Mexican looked way off the mark, as every ball into him left at the feet of an Arsenal defender. This became increasingly evident as Raul was our out-ball, Traore’s departure means that Raul’s hold up play is prioritised when managing difficult away fixtures, but nothing was sticking. Missing a gilt-edge opportunity to put us in a commanding two-goal lead doesn’t help his argument to start either. This begs the question: what can Fabio Silva do to gain another run of starts in the Premier League? Wolves are currently competing in one competition, the Premier League. If Silva’s chances to start are limited to cup competitions only, the pressure of Jimenez’s performances is simply lifted. Silva’s cameos have displayed that currently, there is more to his game than our number nine. He holds the ball up, links play effectively and appears to have a great partnership with Daniel Podence, our man in form.
Wolves have developed quite the reputation for stubborn defensive work and great game management this season, but last night’s showing reflected the game management of a certain Portuguese manager previous. Winning the ball back deep in our own box and launching hopeful balls that just invites more pressure. Typically, this tactic is adopted late on in the game to see a dogged performance to the end, seeing this from the 30th minute demonstrated such a lack of inspiration or belief to take the game to Arsenal. Heartbreak at the end, but a hugely disappointing performance.
Wolves fans must have thought they were in dreamland after five minutes when Saiss poked home from an offside position during the second phase of a corner. Despite being disallowed, this provided momentum for the away side to attack the Gunners. As a result of the effective early press, Gabriel was forced to pass back towards his goalkeeper, and the loose ball was pounced on by the incoming Hwang Hee-Chan, who smartly rounded Ramsdale before slotting home from a narrow angle.
Bar Hwang’s fine finish, clear cut chances were hard to come by, the only real one of not was Jimenez dragging a perfect opportunity well wide of the post. Aside from that, it was one way traffic in favour of Arsenal, and deservedly got their equaliser through Nicolas Pepe, with a brilliant turn and finish, in a sea of old gold. Wolves’ heartbreak was then secured after a Jose Sa own goal – mishandling a tame effort from Lacazette in the 95th minute, sending the Emirates into raptures.
Man of the match – Rayan Ait Nouri
With an abundance of below par performances, finding a man of the match proved difficult. In a game of negative tactics, there were some real moments of positivity displayed by Rayan Ait-Nouri though. Whilst not all his forward runs resulted in a chance (sometimes conceding possession), it was welcome to see someone being confident on the ball, instead of opting for the easy punt up field with zero direction or intent to hit someone in gold. With Semedo unfortunately pulling up with a hamstring injury, there will be added onus for Rayan to inspire attacking phases, but a responsibility I think he’s more than mature enough to carry. Another good showing from our number 3.
Things to improve on
Another vital fixture is just around the corner, back to London for West Ham United. Again, a six pointer for those fighting for European football next season. In my opinion, bold changes are needed – the first of which being Fabio Silva in for Raul Jimenez. Raul hasn’t looked right all season, and five goals should not be an acceptable case to retain his position in the starting eleven. Secondly, win the midfield battle. It provides additional security whilst maintaining control of the tempo, something that was desperately missed against Arsenal.
Simply not good enough, a reaction is needed. Onto the Hammers.
Sam Beeken is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him here