Wolves Preview: Arsenal Look To Continue Momentum
Arsenal travel to the Molineux this evening knowing a victory would open up a five point gap to fourth and fifth place. There is also the added motivation of piling more pressure on Manchester City if West Brom can get something from their game at the Etihad.
Arsenal overhauling City for second place is not completely out of the question, especially in this most topsy-turvy of all seasons. Woijiech Szczesny thinks we will finish third, but is not ruling out second place just yet.
Man City have lost their chance of the title – it was a big blow to us last year and they might drop a little bit, so who knows maybe we can catch them as well.
I feel the players need to maintain this forward focus and have a stretch target to aim at to motivate their performances against lesser teams. We have stumbled at QPR by not displaying this motivation and one hopes the lesson has been learnt.
Wolves have looked relegation candidates all season. The Wanderers have lost their last six games and haven’t taken a point at home since their draw against Norwich on 20th December, three and a half months ago. They also have the worst defensive record in the league (70 goals against) and have conceded at least two goals in each of the last eight games. Although the home team have recovered the second highest points from a losing position (14, behind Arsenal’s 19), paradoxially, they have also lost the most points of any team (20) from winning positions this season. Pretty much a roller coaster ride for their fans, and mostly downhill since Mick McCarthy’s dismissal in mid-Feb.
For Arsenal, there are two changes to the squad from the City game. Gibbs is out with fatigue and Koscielny is suspended so Sebastian Squillaci (remember him) and Chu Young Park (and him) are included in the squad. Gervinho misses out with the same ankle problem that kept him away against City.
Normally, I would expect Arsene Wenger to rest Rosicky after having played a high-profile game just three days before. But Ramsey’s not-so-good-form and Gervinho’s unavailability means he’s unlikely to tinker too much. The only two changes then will be the ones forced on him by Gibbs’ absence and Kocielny’s suspension.
Szczesny / Sagna – Djourou – Vermaelen – Santos / Song – Arteta / Rosicky – Benayoun / Walcott / Van Persie
I expect Wolves to start with a five-man midfield with Fletcher up front on his own:
Hennessey / Zubar – Strearman – Bassong – Ward / Kightly – Henry – Ebanks Blake – Edwards – Jarvis / Fletcher
Wolves are fighting for their lives and I expect them to come out of the blocks and try to unsettle the Arsenal. They will work hard, try to be organised, defend as a team, keep it narrow and generally frustrate Arsenal’s play in the attacking third. When in possession, they will try long balls to Fletcher up front and involve the two wingers to launch their own attacks. Both Michael Kightly and Matt Jarvis are in good goalscoring form at the moment, having scored 4 goals between them in the last 3 games.
On Arsenal’s left, it will be an interesting challenge for Andre Santos to deal with the trickery of Kightly, although the Brazilian will be helped by the winger’s lack of pace. Still, the ex-Spurs youth player is capable of turning inside on his left foot or running towards the flag, and Santos will need to keep a close watch on him. The left side is still Arsenal’s weaker side and Benayoun will be expected to contribute defensively as he did against City.
Arsenal should also be aware that Wolves have scored first in their last 3 league games. It shows the home side usually start the game brightly and have the ability to create chances. What has let them down is their concentration in defense, much like the Gunners themselves. Arsenal need to be patient and make sure we do not over-commit in attack and leave ourselves vulnerable at the back, especially in the first 20 minutes. This assumes more significance when you consider we’ll be fielding a half-changed back-four for this game.
Wolves is another potential banana skin if Arsenal approach it in the callous manner with which we took on QPR. Make no mistake, whatever we get from this game will have to be earned with a 90-minute grind. Hopefully, the players will come on to the pitch with that determination.
Tactically, Arsenal will try to do what Arsenal always try to do – pass quickly, keep good movement off the ball, play at a high tempo, dominate in midfield, attack down the right and create plenty of opportunities with intricate passing.
However, if Wolves are organised and compact in defense, Arsenal must be flexible to adopt the tactic employed against City i.e. use the full backs to whip balls in. The crosses will mainly come from Sagna on the right as both Santos and Benayoun like to drift inside.
I feel Arsenal don’t try this tactic often enough and soon enough against lower placed opposition, trying instead to carve a way through the middle with persistence. Mixing it up helps. Even if the crossing does not deliver a goal, it keeps the opposition defense on their feet, creates nervousness and takes away their option of defending narrow, resulting in better spaces opening up especially as the game wears on.
To summarize, I believe defensive concentration from the entire team throughout the 90 minutes is a must. In attack, we always create chances and tonight it’s doubly important to put them away when they come. RvP is due (TV stay out of the way!) and a goal will force Wolves to chase the game.
2-0 to the Arsenal for me, a goal each for RvP and hold it … Ramsey, who will come on as a substitute.
Back tomorrow with the review. Enjoy the game. Ta.