On the face of it, it was all much of the same. Going behind in the first half, equalising in the second. But in reality, this was a night and day turnaround in performance levels, nicely facilitated by the team from the Emirates.
This was our third fixture against Arsenal since our return to the top flight and our third ‘positive’ result – positive meaning we gained points from the game. Arsenal were famously the final notch on the Wolves bedpost, with regards to victories over the Top 6 in the Premier League era. Many of us who remember our last two spells in the Premier League era will recall some chastening defeats handed to us by some excellent sides, featuring Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh…
But how the mighty have fallen. In each of the last three fixtures, we have felt an overwhelming sense of superiority over Arsenal. This continued from the minute the team was announced on Saturday, although the Newcastle fixture didn’t necessarily allow us to run away with ourselves due to the way we set up, in a slightly convoluted, square peg-round hole kind of way. This time, Nuno went with what many would suggest is our best available XI, each in their preferred positions and he was vindicated entirely by the way we started the game.
Over the last three fixtures against Arsenal, we seem to have developed quite a comfortable relationship. Like a lovely, warm comfort blanket, Arsenal have become the team we love to play, a team welcoming us into their home, serving us up a plate of dinner and tucking us into bed. Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho duly dusted off the carpet slippers and strolled about the lush, green Emirates carpet and proceeded to pin Arsenal into their half for the much of the first twenty minutes. Without truly peppering Bernd Leno’s goal, we were given as much time and space as we could wish to have and the return to 3-4-3 was clearly paying dividends.
Arsenal’s diamond midfield threatened to clog up the space Moutinho and Neves operated in on paper, but instead, Wolves capitalised on the oceans of space on offer in the wide areas. Matt Doherty, Adama Traore, Jonny and Diogo Jota all saw plenty of the ball and might have made more of it on a number of occasions, but some of our crossing was wayward – and requires work in a wider point. And then we reverted to type, conceding a sloppy goal, allowing Arsenal to play the ball around inside the penalty area. Perhaps this is just another one of our creature comforts, a red rag to kick us into gear. We were knocked slightly out of our stride for a short spell, but not without getting further joy up the other end. It was a sore one to take, being behind at half-time.
There was no reason to suspect the second half going any differently to be quite honest. Arsenal had been lulled into a sense of security by being in front, but this is the tetchiest of crowds, a group who grumble, rather than cheer at the sign of any positivity. The odd nature of Arsenal fandom was encapsulated entirely by their reception for Mesut Ozil, a man who has been scapegoated for what feels like the majority of his time at Arsenal. No one is safe, bar Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, who continues to keep an average team in touching distance of their former successes.
I’d actually argue we dropped off slightly on our first half performance, contrary to the way things have gone so far this season, but enough to maintain a threat. The fact we managed 25 shots on Arsenal’s goal tells its own story and we got our just reward thanks to some ingenuity from Joao Moutinho. It was also nice to see Jimenez scoring from open play. There was much to savour about the performance, but you get the impression if we’d gone into this in a more well-grooved vein of form, some of our interplay would have been a little more crisp and more likely to produce goals. I hate to say it, but the draws against Newcastle and Southampton seem to have hamstrung us slightly. It wouldn’t have taken much to push us further up the league IMO.
In the end, a 1-1 draw probably isn’t to be sniffed at. The performance rightly encourages us all though. The back three looked as solid as we could have hoped for, given all aren’t necessarily specialist defenders. The wing-backs clearly enjoyed their day, if they were a little under-productive in good positions. Neves and Moutinho produced their best tandem performance of the season, a throwback to the start of last year when they dovetailed to an incredibly high standard. Traore was a little underwhelming, having got little change out of the admittedly excellent Kieran Tierney and you wonder if someone with a slightly more refined game – Ivan Cavaleiro perhaps – might have made more of the amount of possession Adama enjoyed. Diogo Jota looked right back at it with 90 percent of his game, bar the final touch/shot/pass. I wager his next opposition could be in for one hell of a performance. Aston Villa will remember the last team they faced him at Molineux…
We now enter an important week, with a potentially competition-defining fixture against Slovan Bratislava, before a mouthwatering derby match against Villa. Wonder what kind of odds you’ll get on a 1-1 draw…
Musings from Molineux
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