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Arsenal at Wolverhampton: the race for 4th place continues

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Arsenal hit the road against a stout Wolves in the search for 3 points

Arsenal FC v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

It wouldn’t really feel like the end of the Premier League season without a little late season drama from Arsenal, would it? After being handed a golden opportunity to take command of third place in the league over the weekend, Arsenal frittered away their home match against Crystal Palace to the tune of a 3-2 defeat, keeping them firmly in 4th place with 66 points and only four matches left to play.

On a weekend that saw Manchester United get thrashed by Everton and Spurs edged by Manchester City, Arsenal pulled their best “Charlie Brown kicking the football” impression with a rare loss at the Emirates after Unai Emery opted to field a starting lineup that featured Carl Jenkinson as a wingback, Dinos Mavropanos in a back three, the hairrendous horrendous midfield pairing of Matteo Guendouzi and Mohammed Elneny, and a truly comedic Shkodran Mustafi. Although Arsenal fielded a strong starting attack of Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, and Mesut Ozil, the lack of support from the midfield and a weak defense forced Arsenal to chase a match that they had no business chasing in the first place.

Today’s match against Wolverhampton presents Arsenal with an opportunity to right some of the wrongs that plagued them during Saturday’s loss. Emery bore plenty of blame for the loss, and rightfully so - his conservative approach was ineffective and lacked creativity in the middle of the pitch and solidity in the defense. But his hands were also tied, as Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey, arguably Arsenal’s most important midfielders, were out with injuries, and Sokratis was serving a suspension for yellow card accumulation.

The good news for Arsenal ahead of the match is that Sokratis is back and ready to anchor the defense against Wolves, which should push the horribly inconsistent Mustafi onto the bench. The bad news is that Ramsey is still unavailable, while Xhaka is being assessed ahead of the match. If the Swiss international is available, he and Lucas Torreira should reclaim their rightful starting spots in the pivot.

Regardless of their recent wins at Napoli and Watford, Arsenal have been largely poor away from home all season. It would only be fitting, then, that 3 of Arsenal’s remaining 4 matches are away from the Emirates, beginning with Wolverhampton.

With a punishingly effective counter-attack, Wolves have been one of the most dangerous teams outside of the top six, having beaten Chelsea, Tottenham, and United in the Premier league while also dropping Liverpool and United out of the FA Cup. Although the first match between Wolves and Arsenal ended in a 1-1 draw, Wolves could have, and probably should have, beaten the Gunners. Even while having 72% possession, Arsenal were outshot 13-10 by the visitors and needed an 86th minute strike from Henrick Mkhitaryan to eke out a draw.

Despite their form against the top six, the Wolves have hit a bit of a slump over their last three matches. Following their victory against Manchester United, Wolves were beaten in the Semis of the FA Cup by Watford, lost to Southampton, and were held to a scoreless draw by Brighton & Hove Albion. Much like Arsenal, the Wolves will look at this match as a chance to break out of their poor form. With a win over the Gunners, the Wolves will leap from 10th place to 7th place behind **checks notes** Manchester United, which would put them in contention for a place in next season’s Europa League.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this match is a must-win for the Gunners. After Chelsea’s draw with Burnley, the Gunners are in 5th place with a game in hand with one point separating them and the Blues. Spurs’ last-minute win over Brighton on Tuesday means that a win will keep the Gunners a point behind their cross town rivals. The only solace the Gunners have is that fellow top four rival Manchester United face Manchester City, who are looking to keep their razor thin lead over Liverpool in the race for the title.

If Arsenal want to win, Emery cannot afford to make the same errors he did with Palace. While rotating the line-up is a necessity, especially with a congested fixture list and a Europa League Semifinal next week, the Gunners’ best bet of securing a spot in next season’s Champions League is to aim for a top 4 finish as well as winning the Europa League outright. With Chelsea also still in contention in the EL, there is a slim chance that Arsenal could miss out on Champions League soccer even by finishing 4th. If Arsenal roll out a similarly sorry line-up that they did against Palace, they will find themselves chasing the game once again instead of putting it to bed early.

WHAT: Arsenal at Wolverhampton

WHEN: Wednesday, April 24th, 2:45pm EST/11:45am PST/7:45pm BST

WHERE: Molineux Stadium

HOW TO WATCH: NBC Sports

As always, please do not discuss illegal match streams, please and thank you.

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