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Tomiyasu the difference as Arsenal beat Wolves

Arsenal scored within the first 15 minutes for the first time this season.

Arsenal FC v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Arsenal did something they haven’t done all season in Saturday’s win against Wolves: score in the first 15 minutes. Indeed, Arsenal scored twice in the first 15 minutes, showing the fast start and flowing football that was the hallmark of last season’s play. It’s something Arsenal have struggled to do all season, in part because teams are defending differently against Arsenal. Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, Arsenal’s star wide players, have been doubled up by opposing defenses, who have also sat back in a deep block. Saka spoke about it in an interview after Arsenal’s late win against Brentford last week.

I feel like a lot of games I’m facing a double team with two guys on me and it’s the same for Gabi [Martinelli]. It’s happening in every game. I keep watching all my games back trying to find a solution, what I can do better.

In the end, I just feel like I need to understand that this is how it’s going to be this season and I just need to deal with it and keep finding a way like I did today. That’s what I need to keep doing.

Saka is right—it is how it’s going to be this season, and it was no different against Wolves. But what was different was the positioning of Arsenal’s right back, Tomiyasu, and the presence of Gabriel Jesus through the middle. These two elements allowed for space to open up, space that Saka was able to exploit to score Arsenal’s first goal. It’s clearly something Arsenal have been working with Tomiyasu, as Arteta alluded to post game: “and attacking he has certain things he can develop and improve, his timings, positioning, certain deliveries and actions that he can open some spaces for others. He is so willing to learn and do that, again he’s another player that has given another level and still have another level in him.”

There was clear instruction for Tomiyasu to be the 6th attacker for Arsenal. At times he would overlap—like setting up the cross that could’ve seen Jesus win a penalty in the second half—and would go on the outside, or he would go on the inside, picking up a spot at the edge of the penalty box. This presented Wolves with an issue: double mark Saka, and then it’s harder to pick up both Ødegaard and Tomiyasu.

That’s ultimately what we see with Arsenal’s goal. Both Ødegaard and Tomiyasu are in space, and with Jesus’ mobility and link up play, Arsenal were able to get Saka out of his double team and into a goal scoring position, which he took full advantage of.