Arsenal beat Wolves in the Premier League on Saturday thanks to goals at the end of each half.
Eddie Nketiah hit the post just after the half-hour mark, but it took until just before the break for Arsenal to open the scoring through Bukayo Saka’s half-volley.
Adama Traore’s clipped finish was Wolves’ first big chance to equalise, just lofted too high over goalkeeper and crossbar, and Alexandre Lacazette sealed the victory late on.
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It leaves the Gunners in seventh place and still looking at the possibility of European football for next season.
Here are five things we learned from the game at Molineux.
Wing-backs the future
Several sides around Europe have impressed this year using wing-backs and three centre-backs: Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig have all mounted title challenges using variations of that system.
In the Premier League, it has largely been the domain of Wolves and Sheffield United following suit, but recent games have seen Arsenal follow suit and it’s easy to see why Mikel Arteta is attracted to the idea.
Cedric Soares, Hector Bellerin, Kieran Tierney, Bukayo Saka: all of them can play full-back, but their strengths are in attacking and they’d ideally be on the ball higher upfield.
Meanwhile, with defensive concerns still lingering, an extra body at the back offers a little more protection to all involved.
It’s a system which suits several Arsenal players, allows attackers to focus on their own best attributes and strikes a better tactical balance than the Gunners showed earlier this season and straight after the restart.
Saka’s ceaseless quality
How relieved must Arsenal be that Saka signed a new contract with them?
After several seasons of their best players departing, it’s a huge boost that one of their finest youngsters is opting to stay.
Whether at wing-back, central midfield or as an inside forward, as in this game, Saka is constantly able to affect his team’s play, be a threat in the final third and show great maturity in his game.
A fantastic strike opened the scoring here and he will surely be one of the key players for Arteta to build around going forward.
Lack of alternatives an issue for Wolves
The home team have essentially switched between two variations of the same system all season long: 3-4-3 or 3-5-2. This time they started with the latter and moved to the former partway through.
There’s no problem with the base formation, as it has clearly been a success story, but the build-up play didn’t have enough variation to trouble Arsenal unduy.
Adama Traore made his usual powerful runs in possession, but aside from that their usual routes to goal were impotent.
The wing-backs struggled for any real delivery, Raul Jimenez was forced ever deeper to take possession and the changes off the bench had little to no impact.
One shot on target tells a story of its own.
Champions League ambitions fading…
For Wolves, good recent form had seen them climb to within two points of fourth-place Chelsea, with some suggesting their consistency could see them take that spot this season.
With fifth potentially yielding the Champions League too, pending Manchester City’s appeal outcome, Nuno Espirito Santo’s side looked well-placed to be in the running.
This defeat, however, could be extremely damaging. It’s not just the loss itself, but that rivals Manchester United are showing their best form of the season, winning earlier in the day once more to move clear of Wolves.
There’s little margin for error when it comes to qualifying for Europe’s premier competition and a home loss to a top-half rival can be extremely costly.
Sheffield United away suddenly becomes a must-win.
…but Europa hopes alive
On the other hand, Arsenal are suddenly looking up again, after a few weeks of poor performances of their own.
Seventh place might be good enough for the Europa League, but more importantly Mikel Arteta will be able to point to an upward trajectory—particularly if they manage to find their way through to the FA Cup final, however tough that will be.
The Europa League might not be the place to be, but as was evidenced with Arteta’s displeasure when his side were knocked out earlier this season, the manager will take any forward step necessary to get the Gunners back toward the top.
Tactical changes, positive results, climbing the table and Saka’s new deal—this has suddenly been an excellent week for a side who were a shambles against Brighton only a couple of weeks ago.
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