The usual five talking points ahead of this evening’s away match v Wolves.
Inconsistent opposition, but with reason to fear
Wolves have won just one of their last five matches – they were in the top four early on in the season, although since have lost or drawn with the type of teams they were beating then. There is an argument that, having played Nuno Espirito Santo’s team once and become familiar with the style, teams know how to play them now. Wolves denied Arsenal two points at the Emirates before the turn of the year, so the hope must be that Emery is now more prepared for their threat. One word of warning though. They have beaten Manchester United twice at home in the last six weeks (once in the FA Cup). So they can certainly still raise their game at home against supposedly superior opposition. If Manchester City win the FA Cup, the seventh placed side in the league would gain entry into next season’s Europa League, and it’s as tight a race for that place as it is to secure a top four spot. So there’s reason for the home side this evening not to be on that metaphorical beach just yet. And if you believe you can see who is going to finish where in the race for honours and European places, you would do well to check out this Pinnacle VIP code if you are considering backing your judgment with an online bet.
Okay, so Wolves haven’t been winning too often lately, but more often than not they’ve been away, they have not lost in their last six home matches. Sure, they have had some stinkers – drawing to Brighton last weekend was not good, and go back far enough and they somehow construed to lose at home to… wait for it, Huddersfield! But overall, generally they tend to win at home. Mind, you until last Sunday you could say the same about Arsenal…
Emery got it badly wrong against Palace. You can certainly argue that injuries forced his hand in midfield. But he started the game with Monreal and Maitland-Niles on the bench. Mavropanos gave away the free-kick that led to the visitors’ opening goal. Whether he was sacrificed at half-time instead of Mustafi may have been down to his yellow card. Carl Jenkinson was also at fault for the first goal, which would have been offside had he held the line with his colleagues. No Lee Dixon he, and the performance of his replacement Maitland-Niles in the second half was quite a contrast. No point in criticizing Jenkinson. He’s a player above his level who shouldn’t really be anywhere near the first team, but the Bellerin injury and the disappointment with Lichtsteiner, who seems to have disappeared given he is not officially listed as injured, if Emery wants to give Maitland-Niles a break, it comes down to a choice between shifting Mustafi over to right-back or using Jenko. Emery has a potential seven matches left this season. The last one is some time after the final Premier League game against Burnley. So his players will be rested enough for that. The only game I can see that he could risk playing a weakened side might be Brighton at home, where truth to tell, defending will probably less of a concern, going on the Seagull’s display against Spurs last night.
Pessimists would certainly have marked Everton v Man United down as an away win last weekend. However, by far a bigger surprise was Burnley denying Chelsea two points at the Bridge. Brighton came close to an upset last night at the Lane, but Spurs have scored a lot of late winners this season, and that result probably secures them third place. As well as Arsenal needing to win their trip to Wolves, they really need to hope that the next two results at Old Trafford go a particular way. A win for Manchester City in tonight’s other game would help their cause, and then, when Chelsea visit at the weekend, a win for Solskjaer’s team would be the best result. It would mean then that United could notch up no more than 73 points, and Chelsea no more than 73 themselves. Arsenal have 66 with their four matches to play. Goal difference currently favours them, so two wins and a draw might just be enough. This of course, if Chelsea fail to take something from Old Trafford. By the end of next weekend, the picture will be much, much clearer, but Arsenal could do themselves a huge favour by winning their next two games – Leicester away is up next after Wolves.
The return of the Greek
After his two match suspension, Sokratis returns to add some attitude to the side. No-one wants to see Shkodran Mustafi within a mile of the first team after the legacy of cock-ups he’s made this season, some costing the team points. However, Emery being Emery, you can be certain the German will play a game or two, if only to give Laurent Koscielny a break. But tonight, I just can’t see it. Monreal will surely return, with Kos risked to play again in the centre of a back three. Tonight is exactly the kind of game Aaron Ramsey would prove invaluable for, but that isn’t an option any more, so what happens in front of the defence is anyone’s guess. Is Xhaka fit? Torreira good to start? Let’s hope so, because Guendouzi seems to have run out of steam and Elneny simply isn’t good enough. My God do I hope Arsenal make the Champions League so we can afford to let some overpaid deadwood go this summer.
Recent days have reminded us that, at this stage of the season, surprise results do happen. What would be a surprise result this evening? Probably Arsenal winning! Still, life becomes very difficult if they don’t. So quite simply, they have to play a game of the quality they displayed in Naples last week. We know they can do it. We also know that they are more than capable of turning in the type of display we saw at Everton. Emery has work to do if he is going to turn this club into genuine contenders, but it would help his cause a lot if he had more money this summer. That is partially dependent on the Europa League campaign, and if he does not take at least four points from the next two matches, it will probably be totally dependent on Europe. Let’s try and finish fourth and at least, should they make it to Baku, some of the pressure will be off.
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