Having been held to a draw in their latest Premier League clash on Monday evening, Wolves will be aiming to get back to winning ways when they head to north London to take on Arsenal this weekend. With plenty of talking points ahead of the 7.15pm kick-off, here are five things to know before Nuno Espirito Santo’s side take on the Gunners.
1. ‘FOUR AT THE BACK, PACE IN ATTACK’
On Monday evening against Southampton, Nuno did something not seen in the first 166 matches of his Wolves managerial career – playing four at the back. The change of system from his ever-reliable 3-5-2 /3-4-3 saw his players take 20 shots on goal throughout the match, more than in any other game so far this season. Wolves were also as solid in defence as they were in attack, with Southampton only having seven shots, despite Saints having 55 per cent of the possession.
With a visit to the Emirates coming up on Sunday, Nuno is expected to switch back to his back five, with Nelson Semedo and Rayan Ait-Nouri switching from full-backs to wing-backs, but by showcasing several variations of formations that included a four-man defence, Wolves displayed a new side to their game and a fluidity in formation which could keep teams on their toes when coming up against the old gold.
Can you remember the team from the previous time Wolves played four at the back, coming in a 1-0 win over Preston North End in May 2017? Click here to take the latest Wolves Trivia quiz.
2. THE CAPTAIN RETURNS
The switch in formation was due, in part, to the absence of captain Conor Coady – the first time the 27-year-old has missed a league game for Wolves in 119 matches, a run that stretches all the way back to September 2017. If he was to have featured on Monday, Coady would have equalled the club record for most consecutive appearances from an outfield player, which still stands at 120 – set by full-back Cecil Shaw between 1933 and 1936.
The end of Coady’s appearance run also means that Phil Parkes’ overall club record of 127 matches is safe for the time being. Coady is expected to be back in the line-up once again this weekend – although Romain Saiss remains on the sidelines after testing positive for Covid-19 – but the England defender was one of two Wolves players who have featured in every Premier League match since the club were promoted in 2018. With his 84th consecutive appearance being the last in his initial run, this means striker Raul Jimenez is now holder of the longest current record in the competition, with the Mexican tied on 85 with Leicester City keeper Kasper Schmeichel.
3. GETTING BACK AMONG THE GOALS
Despite their 20 shots against Southampton on Monday night, Wolves continued their record of failing to score in the first half of Premier League games. Since the start of last season, Nuno’s side haven’t scored in the opening 45 minutes of 34 matches, more than any other side. However, in their victory over Crystal Palace last month, Wolves scored two goals in the first 27 minutes, showing the players have it in them to make a quick start if they can find a way through, while Saints keeper Alex McCarthy had to be at his best to deny Wolves taking a first-half lead in the previous match with a point-blank save stopping Leander Dendoncker.
It’s not just Sunday’s visitors who struggle to score in the first-half, but this weekend’s hosts have also been finding goals hard to come by, with Arsenal failing to score in four of their last five league games. Their goalless draw away at Leeds was the latest in their run, but the Gunners will be expected to turn their record around having only gone scoreless in three of Mikel Arteta’s first 24 Premier League matches in charge.
4. TURNING DRAWS INTO WINS
In the past 40 years, the match-up between Wolves and Arsenal have overwhelmingly ended in favour of the latter, with the Gunners losing just one of their last 19 top-flight matches against the gold and black, with that defeat coming at Molineux in April 2019. However, in more recent years, the sides have been more evenly matches, with Wolves claiming three consecutive 1-1 draws on their travels to north London.
Steven Flecther’s goal secured a Boxing Day draw in 2011, while Ivan Cavaleiro and Raul Jimenez have scored in the last two meetings between the sides at the Emirates. If Wolves were to turn a draw into a win on Sunday, it will be the first victory for the club at Arsenal in 10 league visits, when two goals from Andy Gray and a Kenny Hibbitt strike secured a 3-2 win at Highbury in September 1979.