Arsenal’s performance tonight was unacceptable. The men looked befuddled with their mission, and lacked the determination and quality to put together a performance that was required of them. Wolves are no easy opponent. Their form against the top six clubs has been nothing short of impressive. They took down Tottenham at Wembley back in December, and defeated Manchester United at home in both the FA Cup and Premier League. Regardless, Arsenal put the pressure on themselves after failing to claim victory at home against Crystal Palace.
Unai Emery has had a successful season in his first year as the Arsenal manager. It was always going to be difficult to make an impact that would have jolted Arsenal up the table to compete with the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham, and even Manchester United. Yet, Arsenal are still in the hunt for the top four with just three matches remaining in an exciting Premier League season. Tonight’s match against Wolverhampton Wanderers was the perfect opportunity to cement a place in the Champions League for next season.
After a disappointing loss to Crystal Palace on Sunday, a response was of paramount importance. This is especially the case considering the improved form of Tottenham over recent weeks in conjunction with the sheer quality of Chelsea and Manchester United, who also dropped points this past weekend. Arsenal lost to Wolves 3-1, and looked to be a side battling it out amongst the mid table rather than among the leagues best.
Take nothing away from Wolves. The side has played superbly in their first season in the Premier League, and are on the cusp of clinching a Europa League spot. Nuno Espírito Santo has led a team resplendent international, particularly Portuguese, quality. Diogo Jota, João Moutinho, and Rual Jiminez have all taken the Premier League by storm with superb vision and skillful finishing.
Wolves deserved the win tonight. They forced the Arsenal players to commit poor turnovers. They were quick on the ball and took advantage of Arsenal’s miserable set piece defensive tactics. Wolves weathered the early pressure by Arsenal in the first twenty minutes and grew into the match. The sublime free kick by Ruben Neves in the 28th minute lit a spark in the side and completely derailed Arsenal’s confidence. What followed was utterly predictable.
Arsenal were on the back foot for the remainder of the half, and Jota’s goal at the end of the first 45 minutes resigned Emery’s side to defeat. The Gunners came out in the second half looking to nick a goal, but Wolves were content to absorb the pressure and frustrate the Gunners. Arsenal were able to get a goal back after a set piece corner by Xhaka, which was headed in by Sokratis, who had a disappointing display in the first half.
The worst indictment of Arsenal’s performance tonight was that it was difficult to discern this season’s side from that of Wenger’s team last year. Arsenal again dominated possession but were bereft of ideas to break down the stout back three of Wolves. The Gunners played into the hands of their opponents, who are known to relish their chances on the counter attack by stifling any momentum of their competitors.
Unai Emery made an abundance of changes to his side from Sunday’s loss. Among them, the Spaniard switched the formation to a 4-2-3-1. He benched Mustafi, who was abysmal on the weekend, but unfortunately by dropping Mustafi, Arsenal were playing in a relatively unfamiliar system that exploits Arsenal’s defensive weaknesses. Sokratis and Koscielny were exposed at the back while Torreira failed to make an impact in challenging Wolves and pushing the ball forward.
The lack of dedicated wing backs, until second half substitutions, hurt Arsenal going forward. Mainland-Niles and Kolasinac have both been important to getting in behind the defense and stretching out the opposition when Arsenal are in possession. The side never appeared comfortable when moving forward and Mesut Özil never made his mark on the match.
Arsenal remain only one point back from Chelsea for fourth in the table, and with Chelsea traveling to Old Trafford this weekend, the Gunners are still in with a good chance to get a coveted spot in the Champions League. In regards to Europa League, Arsenal will be firm favorites against La Liga side,Valencia, next week in the Semi Finals. The loss is not a nail in the coffin for Unai Emery’s Arsenal, but the poor showing serves as a sound reminder of just how much Arsenal must improve over the summer.