After Thursday’s “disappointing” loss to Brighton & Hove Albion in the Carabao Cup, Arsenal shift their attentions back to the Premier League for one last Premier League match before the entire footballing world comes to a halt for the upcoming World Cup, as the team heads to Wolverhampton to take on 19th placed Wolves.
Arsenal and Wolves are two clubs that were on entirely different trajectories a few seasons ago. It wasn’t that long ago that the midlands club was the fun and punchy recently-promoted upstart that played a fast-paced, flowing brand of soccer, running circles around the opposition and looking like a well oiled machine. The Gunners, meanwhile, were spinning their wheels in futility, struggling to find an identity as they entered the post-Wenger era, dropping out of the top four and becoming a shell of their formerly elite selves.
After promotion following the 17/18 season, Wolves managed back-to-back 7th placed finishes in the league, even finishing above the Gunners in the COVID-affected 19/20 season. At that moment, the Wolves’ future was bright. Under Nuno Espirito Santo, they looked like they were the next team to crash the party and become a top-half mainstay, keeping even the best teams on their heels.
But that success was short lived. For all of their pace and pressing, Wolves struggled doing the one thing that wins games: finding the back of the net. After a prolonged downturn in form, the club sacked Nuno in the summer of 2021. Bruno Lage was hired to take over, but he found success just as elusive as Nuno. In October of 2022, Lage was sacked and eventually Julen Lopetegui, formerly of Porto, Real Madrid, and the Spanish national teams, to name a few, was named as his successor.
Arsenal’s recent history with Wolves has been a mixed bag, reaching its low point in the 20/21 season, losing both ties with the Wolves in frustrating/embarrassing fashion. Last season saw the Gunners return to the winning side of things, beating Wolves twice in two very nervy affairs, most notably Arsenal’s come-from-behind 2-1 victory at the Emirates. Historically, Arsenal have come out on top when facing Wolves, winning 10 of the 16 total ties between the two clubs. Making this match more interesting is the fact that the majority of Arsenal’s wins against Wolves have come away from home, with the Gunners winning 6 matches on the road versus 4 at home.
Arsenal now sit atop the Premier League while Wolves have tumbled into the relegation zone. The Gunners have seen Mikel Arteta’s once-maligned and meme’d process come to fruition to the tune of 34 points from 13 matches, an unbelievable haul considering how poorly the club looked when Arteta took over in December 2019. Wolves have earned a paltry 10 points from 14 matches played while scoring a league-worst 8 goals. The arrival of Lopetegui is intriguing considering his CV, but his presence isn’t likely to make any appreciable difference until after the World Cup, as he isn’t set to officially take over until after the Arsenal match.
Arsenal are expected to win, which, if you’re the league front-runner facing a basement-dwelling club, is a given. But with the majority of Arsenal’s starting roster about to depart for the World Cup, the need for focus could not be a higher priority. The Gunners have not found themselves in first place by mistake, but as we have seen a few times this season, a lack of focus can make matches that should be more manageable a tougher task than necessary. With great success has come a bigger target on their back, as every team will be eager to take points off the league leaders.
I fully expect that the Wolves will also relish the chance to take it to Arsenal in front of a home crowd with the new manager watching. The last match between the two was a tense affair that was decided by a Gabriel goal on a corner that could have gone either way. But Arsenal did not have Gabriel Jesus at the time, which has made a tremendous difference in the potency of Arteta’s attacking tactics. His presence and movement has unlocked the attack, enabling Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka to take more chances and be more potent. Alexander Zinchenko’s return also means that he can slide more centrally to cover for Granit Xhaka to push forward and continue terrorizing defenses, which is a sentence that would have been unimaginable last season.
This season could not have started better for Arsenal, and ending the first almost-half on a high note is imperative for momentum heading into the post World Cup stage. The Gunners look like a club with a point to prove, and, hopefully, three points to earn.
WHAT: Arsenal at Wolverhampton
WHERE: Molineux Stadium
WHEN: 2:45pm EST/11:45am PST/7:45pm BST
HOW TO WATCH: Live on the USA Network. Streaming live on NBCSports.com
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