The momentum Arsenal built up in their sequence of wins that began in August has certainly hit a buffer. Credit to the team for remaining unbeaten, that’s an excellent habit. However, the last five matches have seen four draws and a solitary win, against Blackpool in the League Cup. The team have taken three points from three Premier League games, two of them at home. Although remaining unbeaten is good, two wins and a defeat from those fixtures would have been even better. Arsenal now lie in fifth place in the table, with matches against Tottenham and Manchester United coming within a fortnight of the post internationals resumption.
The issue of not really performing before the interval is becoming something of a habit, and it’s a worrying one. Wolves took the lead early thanks to a mystifying howler from Granit Xhaka who let a pass from Kolasinac run to a Wolves player behind him. 1-0 up, the visitors frustrated their hosts by holding onto their lead for most of the 90 minutes that followed. Eventually pressure told, but the Midlands side were extremely resilient, and on the quality of chances, should have won this game. Arsenal’s best player by some distance was goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s team played five at the back and proved very adept at denying Arsenal time and space. It was difficult to believe they had lost their previous three games. This was more like the performance that held Manchester City to a draw (although that was at Molineux). And although their forays forward were generally on the break, they constantly looked dangerous when they did approach Arsenal’s goal. Emery’s defenders had real problems coping with them.
It’s early days, but this match was unquestionably an off day for the Gunners. The team have been riding their luck for a while, but it can’t last forever. It comes down to this. The attacking imagination and quality of the forward play has to outweigh the weaknesses at the back. But against Wolves, Arsenal seemed to run out of ideas. Emery removed Alex Iwobi at half-time, put Guendouzi on and pushed his full backs even further forward in an attempt to get round the back of the opposition defence. At least he tried something different, but it didn't really work. Ultimately, when the equaliser came it was a bit of a fluke, an intended cross from substitute Mkhitaryan that just deceived the Wolves keeper because no-one made contact with it.
Arsenal did hit the post before that through Aubameyang, and Bellerin skied an excellent opportunity, but at the other end, the chances were even better. The attacking substitute Traore’s pace should have resulted in at least one goal.
However, the Gunners’ problems ultimately stemmed from the early goal. It set the tone for the game, with the visitors having no requirement to take chances and effectively nullifying Emery’s team. Sadly, it was a reminder of a number of of latter day Wenger era performances when the players seemed to lack the imagination and wit to create chances against stubborn opposition. The other thing that was notable was the fitness of the Wolves players – normally Arsenal find more space and time as the game progresses. That didn’t really happen yesterday. Was it fatigue on the part of Emery’s players?
Something was certainly missing yesterday. It was a relief that the game was not lost, but ultimately, a draw is two thirds of a defeat – in terms of points, and Arsenal need to get back to winning ways fast. The next four matches are Bournemouth away, Vorskla away, Spurs at home and Man Utd away. Defensively, the team needs to improve, at the same time as re-discovering their attacking impetus. But nothing can happen for a fortnight…