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Arsenal at Wolves match thread: better than ever

A disappointing January. A long layoff. Finally, the Gunners are back in action.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Arsenal return to Premier League action today with a trip to Molineux Stadium to take on Wolves. Bruno Lage’s squad are 4-1-0 in their last 5 Premier League matches and are well in contention for a European finish. The Gunners are looking to shake off a poor January to challenge for a Top 4 place. Both Tottenham and Manchester United dropped points at the midweek, so the door is open to move up the table.

Wolves are a tough opponent. They have conceded just 16 goals on the season, good for second best in the Premier League behind Manchester City. They’ve also scored the 3rd fewest goals (19). Like Arsenal, they have yet to concede a goal from a corner this season, the only two clubs in the PL to have managed that thus far. Wolves hardly press high at all. They sit back, defend deep, and look to hit on the counter.

The question is how much Adama Traore’s move to Barcelona will hurt Wolves’ attack. My guess is significantly. He was responsible for nearly a third of their progressive dribbles per match. He drew attention and created chaos, and I don’t think that Wolves are going to be able to come close to replicating the effect that he had on the pitch.

My key player for Arsenal today is Martin Ødegaard. He will need to be at his craftiest, space-finding-est best for the Gunners to unlock Wolves’ compact defense. Wolves play a 3-5-2 to clog the middle of the pitch. If Ødegaard can find small pockets of space to receive the ball and spread it wide to Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, especially if he picks them out around and behind the wingbacks, that will drag the CBs out of position and open space for Alexandre Lacazette, the off-wing, and Ødegaard himself to move into.

I would also like to see Emile Smith Rowe start ahead of Granit Xhaka — play a midfield duo of Thomas Partey and Martin Ødegaard and sneak the extra attacker into the formation. Wolves score in transition. Granit Xhaka doesn’t stop transitions without picking up yellow cards. ESR will get into and around the box to get on the end of chances and pick up loose balls. Not having enough players that do that is the thing that has held the Arsenal attack back the most this season.

Mikel Arteta should have close to his full complement of players available for selection, such as it is with the thin roster. He’s hopeful that Takehiro Tomiyasu has shaken off his recurring injury problem and will be available. Arteta said Tomiyasu has been training hard but that he wants to be careful to prevent the injury flaring up again. Mohamed Elneny is unlikely to feature after returning late from AFCON. UPDATE: Bernd Leno misses out after a positive COVID test.

Bruno Lage has a few more injury issues to deal with. Jonny and Hwang Hee-chan both face late fitness tests. Pedro Neto, Yerson Mosquera, and Willy Boly are all out. Romain Saiss and Francisco Trincao are available for selection.

Arsenal - Ramsdale, Cedric, White, Gabriel, Tierney, Partey, Xhaka, Ødegaard, Saka, Martinelli, Lacazette

Wolves - Jose Sa, Semedo, Kilman, Coady, Saiss, Marcal, Dendoncker, Neves, Trincao, Jimenez, Podence

WHAT: Arsenal at Wolverhampton Wanderers
WHERE: Molineux Stadium
WHEN: Thursday, February 10th, 11:45 am PT | 2:45 pm ET | 7:45 pm BT
US TV: Streaming on Peacock only.

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