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Tactical Analysis – Arsenal 1-1 Wolves

While the woes of Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka were front and centre during the week, the boos and groans at full time indicated that it was not lost on Gunners fans that their team’s problems run far deeper than one player.

A 1-1 draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Emirates prolonged a dismal run of form for Arsenal that has cast aspersions about not merely Unai Emery’s future, but the stability of the club as a whole. 

Even prior to the start of the game, there was a sense that Arsenal had been set up to fail. Their 4-4-2 diamond setup, with Mesut Ozil playing behind a front two of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, seemed a strange formation to employ against Nuno Espirito Santos’ 3-4-3.

The lack of natural width from the Arsenal formation meant that Matt Doherty and Jonny Otto were seemingly always in space, allowing Wolves to switch the play and pull the Gunners defence out of shape whilst in possession and assertively press the home sides fullbacks while defending. 

Nonetheless, there was potential for Arsenal to impose themselves on the game, for every system has its pluses and minuses. With Ozil back in the team and both Lacazette and Aubameyang in the same starting lineup, it seemed more than probable that Arsenal could create an abundance of chances with their two strikers being fed by the mercurial German playmaker whose quality was on full display against Liverpool midweek.

Yet Arsenal were strangely antipathetic to asserting themselves and taking risks in possession and were instead content to stand off and invite pressure from Wolves in a bizarre and puzzling manner. It was telling that Ozil, the nominal number ten, was so frequently receiving passes from his centre backs in his own half, which both added much-needed progression and zip to the Arsenal build-up while depriving them of a creative force in the final third and indicating their glaring lack of attacking structure. 

It was Wolves, whose familiar tactical setup provides a stark contrast to that of their opponents, who appeared the team capable of securing three points. While they have made their name as a counter-attacking force, Wolves did show their capacity to create chances when afforded possession, with the visitors producing 28 shots in the game.

It could worry Nuno that so many of these chances fell to whoever happened to be arriving at the edge of the Wolves box, which perhaps makes the fact they had just eight shots on target easier to comprehend. Nevertheless, they were the more positive of the two teams, and likely deserved more than a point. 

The goals were indicative of the manner in which both teams play and the attributes they possess. One of the few times Arsenal created a clear cut chance occurred when a driving run from David Luiz on the right and a quick pass into Lacazette led to an intelligent layoff that found the feet of Aubameyang, who coolly dispatched the chance.

The quality of the front two was undeniable, yet it was telling that such moments in the game were rare. More often than not, the two strikers were forced to drop off in order to add impetus to the Arsenal buildup, thereby depriving them of a clear focal point in attack.

The Wolves’ goal, aside from being a display of Arsenal’s atrocious organization and communication, was the type of goal they score all the time. Simple. Ruthless. Efficient. From a throw into a looping cross to an excellent header to Jiminez got Wolves back into the game and brought Arsenal back into the plunges of their cataclysmic reality. 

At full time, what was left was not just a team in poor form, but a club in disarray. Their record signing Nicolas Pepe left on the bench, with two talented yet unproven teenagers chosen ahead of him to change the game. Their captain out of the starting XI, who emerged as a convenient scapegoat, yet cannot pose as a serious solution to the problems of the team.

Their manager, whose substitutions seemed to harm his side more than help, whose tactics were highly questionable, and whose leadership seems non-existent, will be feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders as his position at the club comes under more and more scrutiny. 

On the surface, a draw to a team as talented and dangerous as Wolves wouldn’t be much of a concern. Yet it is abundantly clear that Arsenal’s troubles lie so much deeper than the surface. 

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