Having faced three games on the bounce away from home, Wolves now have a trio of upcoming fixtures at Molineux, and here are five things you need to know ahead of the first of those three matches, as Arsenal are the visitors to the Black Country on Tuesday evening.
1. AT THE OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE FORM TABLE
In recent meetings between Wolves and Arsenal, it was the old gold who were usually the form team heading into the contest, yet this time out, the two sides couldn’t be much further on the opposite direction. The Gunners arrive at Molineux having lost just one of their last nine matches, and that came in the FA Cup against Wolves’ next foe Southampton.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side, however, are on the most difficult run of the Portuguese manager’s tenure having gone eight Premier League fixtures without a win, the first time Wolves have achieved this untimely feat since Nuno arrived at the club in 2017. But Wolves will take heart from the last time the teams faced each other back in November when they claimed a 2-1 win over the Gunners at the Emirates.
2. KEEPING IT TIGHT AT THE BACK
Wolves’ goalless draw with Chelsea last week was their first clean sheet in the Premier League since October, and when Arsenal come calling on Tuesday night, Nuno will be urging his gold and black side to keep it tight at the back. Without a league win in January, Wolves’ issues haven’t been about putting the ball in the net – three scored against Brighton, one against Everton and two against West Brom proved that – but having conceded seven in those games, Nuno’s men need to find the fine balance of staying watertight in defence while also attacking with numbers.
Arsenal have had that balance down to a tee in recent weeks. Since their 2-1 loss to Everton in mid-December, the Gunners have conceded just two goals in their previous seven top-flight games but have found the back of the net 14 times in that period. Mikel Arteta’s side have also scored at least two goals in five of their last six away matches against Wolves in all competitions, so will be confident of continuing that record this week.
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3. A WIN THAT CAME AT A COST
Although Wolves came out on top when the teams last met, that victory came at a cost for the old gold, as Raul Jimenez was stretchered off the pitch with just five minutes on the clock at the Emirates. A horrific clash of heads with David Luiz saw the Mexican striker suffer a fractured skull, which he is continuing his recovery from. However, there has been recent good news, with Raul getting back to fitness with the Wolves medical team and was even pictured last week training in the gym at Compton Park.
Jimenez’s injury and David Luiz having to be taken off at half-time following that clash in the reverse fixture has also been the catalyst for change regarding the concussion substitutes in football. The Premier League announced at the weekend that the league will trial the use of substitutes from Saturday. The new rule means up to two permanent substitutions can be made in the event of head injuries, even if all replacements have already been used. Opposition teams will also be able to make an additional ‘normal’ substitution at a time of their choice.
4. INJURIES PILING UP
There will be plenty of decisions for Nuno to make regarding his team selection on Tuesday night, especially with the injury list continuing to be a nuisance for the head coach. Although the crisis that he was faced with a few weeks ago has settled slightly thanks to the return to fitness of Daniel Podence, Willy Boly and the signing of Willian Jose, the left-back or left wing-back position remains cause for concern with Jonny, Marcal and now Rayan Ait-Nouri out.
Nelson Semedo stepped across and into that position against Crystal Palace on Saturday afternoon, but Nuno might use the depleted nature of available players in that position to make a switch to a back four against the Gunners having attempted to shore up shop with a back five in Wolves’ last three matches. Having conceded just one goal in those three, it’s certainly helped the clean sheets worries, but with just the one scored – Vitinha’s 35-yard rocket against Chorley in the cup – maybe an alteration in the system will be required if Wolves are to add to their goal tally.
5. A RUN OF MOLINEUX MATCHES
Following back to back matches in the capital and an FA Cup tie in Lancashire, Wolves are back at Molineux this week as they prepare for a trio of upcoming fixtures. The home of the old gold has been a happy hunting ground in recent seasons, and even at the start of the current campaign, Nuno’s men went on a run of just one defeat in seven at the historic stadium. But having picked up just two wins at home in their last six in all competitions, home form is something Wolves will need to turn around.
Following Tuesday’s match, Nuno’s side will be back at home on Sunday afternoon for the visit of Leicester City in the Premier League, before a crucial FA Cup fifth round tie against Southampton next Thursday evening. Despite supporters still being unable to attend matches at Molineux, all three of the home fixtures are available to watch on BT Sport and Sky Sports, or catch all the build-up, live commentary and post-match reaction on Wolves TV’s Matchday Live Extra, but the lack of fanatic supporters inside the ground is certainly having an impact this season.