The race for the Premier League top 4 gets 𝙚𝙭𝙩𝙧𝙖 𝙨𝙥𝙞𝙘𝙮 as challengers Wolverhampton Wanderers and Arsenal butt heads at the Molineux Stadium this Friday.
The Gunners have not seen any action since being held to a goalless draw by Burnley back in January, and will appreciate as they take on a tricky opponent in the form of the Wolves.
However, 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗲 𝗶𝘀 𝗹𝗲𝘀𝘀 𝘀𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗼 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗪𝗼𝗹𝘃𝗲𝘀 𝗯𝗶𝘁𝗲 now that Adama Traore has switched loyalties to Barcelona, and have seen them being dumped out of the FA Cup by Norwich City.
The Wolves have amassed an impressive 4 wins in their last 5 games. With Traore and his attacking prowess no longer a threat, it remains to see if the Wolves will be able to replicate their success in the first-half of the season that has seen them emerge as top 4 challengers.
A worrying sign of the Wolves problem lies in their goal tally, having only scored 19 times in 21 games in the EPL. With Traore out of the picture, Bruno Lage could be looking at a potential goal drought on his hands. On the flip side, the Wolves have been solid at the back, conceding only 16 goals this campaign, with only Manchester City boasting a better record, with 14 goals conceded.
The above factors could be worrying for Arsenal fans. Arsenal have not been particularly dangerous in front of goal this season, having only scored one more goal than 13th placed Crystal Palace.
Further validating their concerns is the recent departure of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Barcelona. With one of their biggest attacking threats gone, Mikel Arteta will be counting on top scorer Emile Smith Rowe and Alexander Lacazette to deliver the goods.
While many will point to Aubameyang’s lack of contributions this term, others will focus on a lack of January activity to negate the loss of Aubameyang, with soon-to-be free agents Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah now Mikel Arteta’s only two central options for the remainder of the season.
Failure to land Dusan Vlahovic, Alexander Isak or Dominic Calvert-Lewin has not gone down well with Gooners – especially after they were held to a goalless draw by Burnley before the international break – making it five games without a win and four without a goal in all tournaments.
The Gunners only have the top four left to fight for now and enter Thursday’s game lying sixth in the table and within touching distance of Manchester United – who have played a game more – so the onus is on their depleted attack to deliver the goods if a return to the promised land of the Champions League awaits them.
Arsenal do at least travel to Wolves on a two-game winning streak away from home in the Premier League, but the away crowd will need no reminding of last season’s Molineux catastrophe, as red cards to Bernd Leno and David Luiz contributed to a 2-1 loss after defeat by the same scoreline at the Emirates Stadium earlier that year.
Wolves are still missing Jonny, Willy Boly, Pedro Neto, Yerson Mosquera and Hwang Hee-chan, and it remains to be seen if Francisco Trincao will be able to return from COVID-19 infection. Raul Jimenez and Daniel Podence could form a two-man strikeforce if Trincao is not fit to play, meaning another midfield overload of Joao Moutinho, Ruben Neves and Leander Dendoncker.
As for Arsenal, Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey are both back from suspension to form their familiar midfield pairing, but AFCON runner-up Mohamed Elneny may not return just yet. Nicolas Pepe did join up with the group in Dubai and will be available, but Cedric Soares and Takehiro Tomiyasu are both injury concerns, leaving Arteta with a key decision to make at right-back.
Ben White will likely deputise in that area if required as Rob Holding features in defence, but Cedric is thought to have a relatively good chance of shaking off his hip problem to make himself available.
This match is a do or die for the Wolves, as failure to grab all 3 points could very well spell the end of their top 4 hopes.
Expect to see a tightly contested game, as both teams will play carefully and avoid giving anything away for free.
We say that Arsenal takes this game 1-0.