While their Europa League form has been encouraging and the football often exciting and fast-paced, it’s in the Premier League that Arsenal’s woes have persisted.
Going into their match against Wolves, Arsenal looked to be turning their recent form around, following a somewhat fortuitous 0-0 draw with Leeds United and a spectacular 0-3 win over Molde in the Europa League, which qualified them for the Round of 32.
Given the continued absence of Thomas Partey, Arsenal persevered with a make-shift midfield, mainly containing Granit Xhaka, Dani Ceballos and the in-form Joe Willock.
The first-half was a stop-start affair, not least due to the injury sustained by Wolves forward Raúl Jiménez, following a clash with David Luiz. The Mexican forward was unfortunately withdrawn from the field of play after nearly ten minutes of attention from the various medical teams at the empty Emirates Stadium.
Despite the stop-start nature of the game, it was Wolves who struck first, with Pedro Neto’s quick reaction to Leander Dendoncker’s header cannoning off the crossbar, giving the visitors the lead. However, Arsenal struck back almost immediately after new signing Gabriel Magalhães headed home Willian’s cross, with Wolves’ lead lasting all of three minutes.
However, twelve minutes later, Wolves struck back after Daniel Podence weaved his way around Arsenal’s lacklustre defence and dinked Wolves into the lead three minutes before half-time.
In the second-half, Arsenal began to attack with more gusto. Wolves seemed to be aware that they would be required to limit their forays forward to simple counter-attacks using the notable speed of Adama Traoré to aid them, who was giving Héctor Bellerín a particularly bad time on the right-hand side, which gave flashbacks to the time that Jefferson Montero had humiliated Calum Chambers away at Swansea a few years ago.
Despite Arsenal’s attacking changes and intent, the match ended with a deserved 1-2 win for Wolves and Arsenal looking more desperate than they have in recent years.
Arsenal once again appear to be paying dearly for the decision to not include any attacking players in their Premier League squad. Mesut Özil continues to live a Dante-esque lifestyle on the peripherals of the Arsenal squad, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was sold in the summer to AS Roma and the club’s failed pursuit of Houssem Aouar looks to show Arsenal as being a very uncreative side, with players having to survive off scraps.
Given his three-match ban, Nicolas Pépé’s absence was always to be expected, as was Willian’s return to the squad in his absence, however, the Brazilian once again continues to disappoint for Arsenal. Though the former Chelsea winger picked up an assist for Gabriel Magalhães’ equaliser, it was yet another evening of poor performances from the winger. Crosses were aimlessly tossed into the box, dribbles left half-completed, attacks slowed to a snail’s pace and the winger was once again, unsurprisingly replaced by the hungry Reiss Nelson.
Elsewhere, the performance of Héctor Bellerín left a lot to be desired as well. The Spaniard has been under-fire of late for his ht and cold performances and with Cédric Soares, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Calum Chambers all vying for positions, it seems as though Mikel Arteta will be unable to keep Bellerín in the firing line for much longer.
Arteta himself has to shoulder much of the blame for Arsenal’s defeat and performance as well. There seems to be a distinct lack of direction in Arsenal’s gameplay. Last season and in away games against the top teams, Arsenal were forced to set up conservatively. Outgunned by most all the teams they came up against and lacking the overall quality to contain the attacking forces bearing down on them, Arsenal were resigned to having to limit their attacks to the counter-attack and coping with the team’s inability to break down a low-block by catching them unawares, however, in recent weeks, Arsenal’s inability to break teams down have been stunningly exposed and barring individual brilliance, Arsenal have shown to struggle with even the most basic of attacking attempts.
Arsenal did manage a whopping thirty-three crosses into the box on Sunday night, with only one of which converting, a tactic that Arsenal refused to play under Olivier Giroud’s tenure and now seems rather foolish, given the lack of height in Arsenal’s attack.
The form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, which has taken a nose-dive in recent weeks, looks to be a worrying aspect for the club as well. Aubameyang’s form has been patchy ever since signing his new contract with the club, but his performances have been worrying quite apart from the distinct lack of goals that have followed the forward around Europe. Aubameyang seems either unwilling or unable to get too involved in the play and his desire to run onto the ball on the shoulder of the last man seems to suit a style of play that has been proven not to work for Arsenal in recent weeks.
It remains to be seen if Arsenal can turn their fortunes around, but an ostensibly worthless game at home to Rapid Wien (which also, mercifully, sees the return of a limited number of Arsenal fans for the first time since March) will then be followed by the North London Derby on Sunday, a game that Tottenham are sure to be relishing and Arsenal dreading.
1.) Bernd Leno
2.) Héctor Bellerín
23.) David Luiz (Holding 45’)
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka (Lacazette 80’)
8.) Dani Ceballos
28.) Joe Willock
12.) Willian (Nelson 65’)
7.) Bukayo Saka
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
16.) Rob Holding
17.) Cédric Soares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
24.) Reiss Nelson
30.) Eddie Nketiah
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Wolverhampton Wanderers team:
11.) Rui Patrício
22.) Nélson Semedo
15.) Wilfried Boly
16.) Conor Coady (c)
5.) Fernando Marçal
32.) Leander Dendoncker
28.) João Moutinho
37.) Adama Traoré
10.) Daniel Podence (Neves 70’)
7.) Pedro Neto
9.) Raúl Jiménez (Fábio Silva 15’ (Kilman 78’))
Wolverhampton Wanderers subs:
21.) John Ruddy
2.) Ki-Jan Hoever
49.) Max Kilman
3.) Rayan Aït-Nouri
8.) Rúben Neves
17.) Fábio Silva