Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal will be rejoicing in the festive spirit after their six-nil dismantling of their Champions League group stage opposition Lens during the week. As calendars across the world are flicked over to December, this marks a critical period as the fast-paced and action-packed schedule steamrolls towards 'the most wonderful time of the year' as singer Andy Williams said.
The Gunners welcome mid-table opposition Wolverhampton Wanderers to the Emirates fortress. Only five days ago Wolves took on West London based Fulham. Gary O’Neil’s side will still be licking their wounds after finding themselves on the wrong side of a 3-2 scoreline.
Lying low in 12th place, Wolves will be desperate to bounce back from a controversial VAR-influenced defeat. With Arsenal boasting excellent home form and Wolves only collecting seven points on their travels thus far, the odds do not favour victory for the latter.
Managing fixtures and the squad
Squad depth is inherently important during the winter period and with the North London club having six different goal scorers on Wednesday evening, they are highlighting just that. The Spaniard was very reluctant to be optimistic when asked if they had enough depth:
“Time will tell. We have another big game against Wolves, a very difficult team to play against. Our preparation has been focused on what we have to do to win the game.”
Moreover, Arsenal are playing their third match in just seven days which is the cards dealt to managers as the fixture list becomes congested. Although, the man in the arsenal hot seat has a positive evaluation on this matter:
“That’s the beauty of it. We wanted to be in this position. We are playing in big games every three days and the squad is ready. The players are hungry to play every single game. They are disappointed when we have to rest them to manage minutes."
Top of the table residents Manchester City, Liverpool and Aston Villa all play on Sunday giving first-place Arsenal the opportunity to go four points clear. The 41-year-old was adamant they needed to focus on their game:
“We can control what we can do. I’ve learnt that if’s in this league are not a very positive thing to have in mind. We are very hungry to play in front of our crowd tomorrow and win the game."
The former Arsenal player himself was happy about the wellbeing of his side post-Lens while confirming there will no additions returning from injuries:
“No, I don’t think we are going to get anybody back still, and we didn’t have any incidents, so all good.”
Back to our attacking best?
Throughout the campaign, despite sitting top of the Premier League, fans and pundits alike do not believe Arsenal have played to their best capability. Nonetheless, the Gunners showed hints they were returning to their free-flowing attacking excellence which placed them in the title race last year. Spanish national, Mikel Arteta, was not satisfied of their performances as of yet:
"I think there are more levels to come. I hope so, and we have to continue to do a lot of the things we are doing well in games to earn the right to win, but I think we can still improve and be more consistent.”
Striving for success
Japanese international, Takehiro Tomiyasu, has reportedly been in positive talks with Arsenal over a new deal. After a stellar performance on Wednesday night with two assists and the idea of squad depth, positive contracts are essential in a thriving infrastructure according to the manager:
“It does [help], because those players have deserved new deals with the performances and the way they’ve behaved. They also give us great stability – they are at a brilliant age where more is to come from them.
There is no doubt a harmonious club which rewards excellence is a recipe for long-term success when winning trophies as Arteta highlights:
“Without top players, without a top-quality squad in this league and the demands we have, it’s impossible to [win trophies] and that’s what we are trying to build and evolve.”
Two of those “top-quality” talents in the squad which Arteta refers to are Kai Havertz and Declan Rice. Making their short journeys from Chelsea and West Ham respectively in the summer for a collective mouth-watering sum of £167.5 million. Rice has excelled since sporting the red and white shirt, however, Kai Havertz has struggled. Performances yielding consecutive goals has now kickstarted the German's Arsenal career.
These stars, alongside Martin Odegaard will have to be patient in finding consistent fluidity exclaimed their manager:
“I think [it] will help the more minutes that they play together the chemistry will get better and better as well.”
Wolves' attacking threat
Arteta was not short of praise for his opposition counterpart Gary O’Neil and how he sets up his team as he is expecting a challenging test:
“They perform really well, especially against top sides. That speaks highly about the quality of the coaching staff – what Gary is doing, the way they prepare and control opponents."
Most tacticians will be anticipating Wolverhampton Wanderers to be set up defensively, and Arteta was questioned on how to overcome a defensive resistance:
“Giving players tools, ideas and understanding what we have to do with the game we have to play. It’s about the efficiency in the last part of the park that dictates the outcome of the game. The other night we were very efficient.”
Since Wolves resurgence back to the Premier League in 2018, they have been a cunning nemesis of the “Big 6”. Tottenham Hotspur will be able to tell you that firsthand. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Wolves were an established team in the Premier League while securing Europa League football. On the contrary, they have experienced turbulent seasons in the most recent years. Under new leadership, Gary O’Neil looks to bring back football fever to the Black Country.
If Arsenal can replicate the standards of their superb attacking output they demonstrated midweek, it would be hard to look past any result but an Arsenal win. However, Arsenal’s noisy neighbours would say to keep their wits about, they would be hoping for the opposite.