Sunday evening. 7:15pm. Typically, this would mean a slumber from a hearty Sunday Roast Dinner, followed by a level of slight anxiety for what the week ahead would hold; accompanied by the impending doom-inducing Heartbeat theme tune (showing my age, but I digress).
The signal for the end of a week and the start of a new one. But in the Covid-ravaged 2020, a Sunday evening is now seemingly a prime spot for a Premier League game. Of course, this week it is the turn of Wolves to travel to the capital to take on an inconsistent Arsenal outfit. If Monday’s performance is anything to go by, you may be forgiven for skipping the first 45 minutes.
What can Wolves take from Monday night into this weekend? Well, we now know that Nuno’s Wolves can play with a back 4. Granted, at times during the game on Monday night, the defence looked haphazard and it was quite clear that this particular defensive line-up had only been afforded a couple of days to train as a back 4. But, it is another string to the bow for a usually predictable Wolves formation.
Was it effective? In the first 15 minutes, Wolves looked the better team, creating early chances. However, the players must have then remembered they were playing in a first half, and reverted back to the tried and tested version of themselves.
Since the start of last season, Wolves have failed to score in the first half of 34 premier league games, which is more than any other side. Yes the philosophy of not being able to lose if you don’t concede is important; but a distinct lack of incisiveness in their attacking play until falling a goal behind on Monday night, must have alarm bells ringing for Nuno. Having said this, Nuno seemed pretty chuffed in his post-match Sky Sports interview stating, “We finished the game on the front foot. I’m very proud of the reaction to the goal”.
The response was positive and helped Wolves record 20 shots on goal on Monday night, which in recent times has been totally unheard of. The introduction of Pedro Neto and the more advanced role for Joao Moutinho helped the Wanderers cause going into the final minutes, and the Molineux men could have snatched all three points in the end.
Wolves will be hoping to carry the level performance from the closing stages of Monday night and implement them from the get-go at the Emirates on Sunday. The Gunners currently lie in 12 th place and drew 0-0 last time out with Leeds United.
In quite the contrast to our last opponents, Arsenal are on a poor run of form, lying 17 th in the current Premier League form table. They have lost three of their last five in the Premier League and have only scored one goal in these fixtures; an Aubameyang penalty against Manchester United at the start of November.
Arsenal will be without the suspended Pepe on Sunday night, who was sent off at Elland Road in the second half. It is unclear whether the influential Thomas Partey will be available for selection following a thigh strain, but Arsenal should be able to call upon Saka, Luiz and Willian who were doubts following the Leeds
game. They will be looking to rediscover their goal-scoring form and with their calibre of attacking players, will carry a constant threat that Wolves will need to be wary of.
On Monday, Conor Coady missed his first premier league game since Wolves’ return to the top flight, and it will come as no surprise to see him straight back into the squad and into the middle of a back three come Sunday. It will promise to be a beard scratcher for Nuno in terms of personnel in other areas.
Although Semedo was caught seemingly self-isolating at the back post for Walcott’s goal, it could be argued that the initial mistake came from a weak Ait-Nouri challenge. The youngster is an encouraging prospect, however it must now be time to bring in Marcal for protection and experience on the left side.
It seemed extremely harsh that Pedro Neto was left out on Monday and I would expect to see him in the starting eleven on Sunday, after his game-changing introduction and goal. It may also be worth sticking with Traore and giving him a run of games to try and cement his place in the team.
The centre of the park will be an interesting conundrum for Nuno. Dendoncker covered the most ground of any home player on Monday (11.2km), and offered his normal box to box coverage throughout. Joao Moutinho returned to the midfield and put in arguably his best performance for a long time. His contribution was unrivalled; ranking top for Wolves in terms of chances created, tackles, interceptions, passes in the opposition half and duels won.
With the expected return to a back three, this may leave Ruben Neves’ place in jeopardy for Sunday, after another ineffective performance on Monday. It could be argued that Moutinho was able to take up a more advanced position following the departure of Neves for Neto against Southampton, and I could see this being a contributing factor for Nuno come Sunday.
Although Arsenal recorded only 2 shots on target against Leeds, they should be credited with being able to keep out a rampant Leeds team with 10-men for the majority of the second half. Their current dip in form will mean they will be eager to add some much needed goals and points to their tally, with three points on Sunday seeing them leapfrog Wolves.
However, this could be a perfect time for Wolves to meet Arsenal and could help Wolves creep towards the top 6. With both teams struggling for goals, don’t expect a classic. But if Wolves can replicate their intensity and attacking threat from the final 15 minutes of Monday’s game for a more sustained period on Sunday, they should be able to effectively disarm the Gunners and pull off a positive result.
Predicted 11- Patricio, Coady, Kilman, Boly, Marcal, Semedo, Dendoncker, Moutinho, Neto, Traore, Jimenez.