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Arsenal welcome Wolverhampton Wanderers to the Emirates on Sunday as two sides occupying meagre mid-table positions look to kickstart a climb up the rankings.
With both teams harbouring ambitions of European football but neither of them hitting their stride yet, plenty is at stake – but don’t expect Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden.
As we enter matchday ten, both sides are yet to reach double figures in goals, with Wolves part of a small minority of teams that haven’t even scored more than two goals in a game this season. Both Nuno Espirito Santo and Mikel Arteta have favoured defence-first systems, and while effective at times (Wolves have kept more clean sheets than any other Premier League side in 2020), goals appear to be the one thing holding the two teams back.
That said, the top six remains within touching distance. A win for ninth-placed Wolves could see them jump to sixth, while Arsenal – just a point behind their opponents for Sunday – only need a win or two to launch a charge of their own. After a turbulent fortnight, all is certainly not lost for Arteta’s men.
When Is Kick Off? Sunday 29 November
What Time Is Kick Off? 19:15
Where Is it Played? Emirates Stadium
TV Channel/Live Stream? Sky Sports Main Event/ Sky Sports PL, NBC Sports (USA)
Referee? Michael Oliver
Arsenal will be boosted by the return of David Luiz on Sunday after the Brazilian was ruled out against Leeds United due to his wife giving birth. The fitness of Thomas Partey, however, remains a concern as he looks to recover from a thigh strain, while Bukayo Saka is a doubt after picking up a dead leg against Leeds. Nicolas Pepe is suspended after his red card in that game.
As for Wolves, captain Conor Coady is set to return after Covid-19 protocol left him unable to train in the days leading up to the Southampton game. It was the first league game he’d missed in over three years. The virus also ruled Roman Saiss out against the Saints after a positive test, and the Moroccan will remain sidelined for Sunday’s game as a result.
On Monday, 2020 got even weirder. Against Southampton, for the first time in over three years, Wolves went four at the back. And not only did Nuno ditch the enshrined 3-5-2/3-4-3 systems that he has polished and perfected for so long, he even took a leaf out of Mike Bassett’s book: for the final 20 minutes, it was ‘four-four- f***ing-two’.
With Coady returning this weekend, it’s likely to prove just a one-off experiment as Wolves look set to revert to a back three, but the change did bring about a glimmer of unpredictability – something you haven’t been able to say about the majority of their performances this season.
While they continue to pick up points at a healthy but unspectacular rate, their attacking play has seemed somewhat formulaic at times and it is this, along with their slow starts to matches, that appears to be hindering a genuine push for the top four.
As for Arsenal, it was more of the same in their return from the international break against Leeds: ponderous in possession, vapid in attack, but resilient (and, in this case, very lucky) at the back.
Arteta will have been grateful to come away with a point, such was the volume of chances that Leeds created, but he knows that his side will have to up their game on Sunday. Arsenal have won just one of their last five league games, and need to turn it around quickly if they’re to sustain their pursuit of European football. They can’t let the gap between them and the top six become insurmountable.
Molde 0-3 Arsenal (26/11)
Leeds 0-0 Arsenal (22/11)
Arsenal 0-3 Aston Villa (08/11)
Arsenal 4-1 Molde (05/11)
Manchester United 0-1 Arsenal (01/11)
Wolves 1-1 Southampton (23/11)
Leicester City 1-0 Wolves (08/11)
Wolves 2-0 Crystal Palace (30/10)
Wolves 1-1 Newcastle United (25/10)
Leeds United 0-1 Wolves (19/10)
As mentioned above, it’s unlikely to be a classic. Expect a gritty, attritional affair, with both sides cancelling each other out if Arteta opts for a three-man defence. Wolves will pick up in the second half, as they always do. Arsenal will labour in possession, as they always do.
But the hosts have also proven time and time again that pieces of individual quality can win them matches, and given their superior squad, why bet against it happening again?
Prediction: Arsenal 1-0 Wolves