A frustrating evening ended as Wolves fell 0-1 to Arsenal in an important fixture under the lights at Molineux. The Arsenal defence faced an onslaught in the final period following a red card, but Wolves were unable to capitalise on the opportunity. With both sides on the hunt to consolidate their ambition for European football, it was the visitors who left with all three points – much to the disappointment of Wolves.
A minor calf issue for Joao Moutinho saw Dendoncker line up with Neves in a midfield two, with a re-introduction for Romain Saiss, after his great showing at AFCON. Raul Jimenez started up top with Trincao and an in-form Daniel Podence. In a similar vein to his current form, Podence was the bright spark for Wolves during the first half, drawing many a foul with his trickery and intelligent movement. Trincao and Jimenez on the other hand, struggled to stamp their authority on the fixture once again – marshalled out of the game by White and Gabriel, in a very confident showing from the Arsenal pair. It was particularly frustrating that Wolves failed to target booked players, with both Xhaka and Thomas Partey cautioned within the game, I was surprised to see the lack of action through the centre of the field.
Possession seemed a key factor for Wolves, as the home side held much of it, but having very little in terms of chances on goal to show for it. Arsenal seemed relatively comfortable with allowing Wolves time on the ball, as the home side were causing little panic for their defensive unit. Even after a red card for Martinelli’s petulant fouls in the same passage of play, Wolves severely lacked any creativity to unlock the Arsenal defence. The contest was even overall, with neither side having too many chances to write home about, but it was the red card that allowed the visitors to sit back soak up the remainder of what Wolves had to give.
Arguably Wolves’ biggest game of the season so far, and it feels like a huge opportunity missed. The away side went down to ten for the final twenty minutes, and all Wolves could conjure up was a barrage of crosses, defended simply by the visitors in what looked like a training drill. A chance missed to close the gap on those ahead, and a chance missed to cement our bid for European football next season.
Wolves had built a good reputation for not conceding set pieces this season, but four set-piece goals have been conceded from the last four fixtures. This time, succeeding a scramble in the goal mouth, Gabriel poked home for the Gunners in the 26th minute. A disappointing manner for Lage’s men to concede after some decent spells of possession during the first period. Clear cut chances for either side were few and far between, with both goalkeepers having an easy day at the office. Gabriel Martinelli managed to change the complexion of the game within fifteen seconds, with a childish display of fouls resulting in Arsenal’s 101st dismissal of the Premier League era. Unfortunately, Wolves’ feeble attempts to equalise left much to be desired, as Arsenal comfortably sailed towards an important away victory.
Man of the match – Daniel Podence
There was precious little to choose from for standout performances, the attacking movement was lacking, midfield was conservative, and the defensive unit failed to keep out the Gunners’ only decent opportunity. Daniel Podence was a livewire during the first half, giving Cedric Soares nightmares, with the Arsenal defender somehow escaping a booking. Podence looked like the only one attempting to fashion a different opening than an aimless cross that as simply headed away. In a game where we didn’t cause trouble for Arsenal, one man did. Another deserved mention for the little man, in a hugely uninspiring front line.
You could be blind and still see Wolves are in dire need of creativity. Whether this be from a new, dynamic midfielder that can unlock defences, or a change in attacking patterns, an alternative is needed. We’ve become too predictable again, sideways passing towards the wingbacks, before a cross is fired in that doesn’t clear the first man. When it does? No-one is there to attack it. The push for European football is still possible, but points are needed desperately from the February fixtures.
Sam Beeken is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him here