Arsenal vs. Wolves
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Kickoff: 10:00 AM EST, Emirates Stadium, North London, UK
TV Coverage: Fox Soccer Plus / foxsoccer.tv (both for subscribers)
Form: Arsenal WLWLW, 5th place | Wolves LWLLD, 17th place
Arsenal welcome Wolverhampton Wolves to the Emirates tomorrow, albeit one day later than originally scheduled due to today's labor action. It feels like forever since Arsenal have played, for some reason, even though the Villa match was on the 21st, and there are about 239 fixtures in the next two weeks. The extra day's rest should come in handy after what was a grueling test at Villa Park, although it does obviously afford one day fewer ahead of the QPR match on New Years' Eve for the players to recover. With a Chelsea draw against Fulham in a huge derby comprising part of today's action, Arsenal can go fourth tomorrow with a win. Wolves sit on 15 points, one above the relegation zone, and obviously will look to cushion their standing somewhat.
Wolves have been okay at home this season, scoring 13 goals and giving up 15, but away, as they will be tomorrow, they are pretty bad: six goals for, seventeen against in eight away matches. They will be going up against Arsenal without midfielder Jamie O'Hara or defender Jody Craddock, but for the most part, the rest of their starting XI is intact. Even if they aren't the most ambitious of attacking sides, Stephen Fletcher and Kevin Doyle are the type of center forwards who traditionally/stereotypically give Arsenal's defense problems (although that might not be the case any longer), and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake speeds around causing havoc, too. Stephen Hunt will run around like mad on the wing, and Karl Henry will smash in the middle. It's Wolves--they are who they are, you know? Former Birmingham City center back Roger Johnson will pair with Christophe Berra in front of goalkeeper Wayne Hennessy.
Arsène Wenger was full of praise this week for manager/MI-6 operative Mick McCarthy, saying that he is up for any fight and that he is "cool-blooded, strong, and resilient", words which can also describe an alligator, James Bond, or an iguana. While McCarthy hasn't always had the strongest side to work with, he has managed to escape relegation by the skin of his teeth at the last minute since last Wolves rejoined the Premier League. Having watched them play against Sunderland a couple of weeks ago, they certainly came alive when poked by Kieran Richardson's walloping strike early in the second half, Hennessy saving a penalty that would have made it 2-0 and springing a vicious counter that leveled almost immediately before Fletcher scrapped home a winner and a brace on the volley. Wolves will primarily fling crosses in towards Fletcher and Doyle from Matthew Jarvis and Hunt, so hopefully Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen have their jumping shoes on tomorrow.
Arsenal, for their part, well, not much has changed. Johan Djourou is still out, so four center-halves it is at the back, unless Wenger decides to put Frances Coquelin at right-back again. Koscielny at the right, with Mertesacker and Vermaelen in the middle and Ignasi Miquel out left is another possibility, which, given the need for rotation at this time of year, might happen.
In the midfield, it's time to give Aaron Ramsey a break. Whether or not Wenger will is another matter, but using Tomas Rosicky or Yossi Benayoun behind the striker is one option. Drafting in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another. If Andrei Arshavin must really play, he would best be used behind the striker as well, instead of puttering around on the left, where he has looked absolutely a shadow this season. Mikel Arteta and Alex Song will almost surely start in the double pivot in front of the back four. Gervinho and Theo Walcott will join up with Robin van Persie, who needs rest, and will probably get it against QPR, in the front three.
Wojciech Szczesny will make faces in goal, and occasionally play, as well.
Prediction: Arsenal look bad under early pressure from Wolves, who harry the midfield and create bouncy chances in front of goal. Szczesny is equal to the task, though, palming away point-blank headers from Fletcher and Hunt. As Arsenal slowly gain a grip on the proceedings, Walcott gets in behind Johnson to poke home an opener, and after that, it's much more comfortable for Arsenal until the second half, when a freak snowstorm blows in in front of a Romulan invasion force. McCarthy and Wenger combine forces to outwit the Romulan commander, escaping by parachute at the last minute in front of a massive explosion which melts all the snow on the pitch. 60,000 applaud as the two land in the center circle, while Marouane Chamakh runs around celebrating Arsenal's second which he scored by kicking the ball off of a mounted turret and a Romulan right back. Arsenal 2 - 0 Wolves.