Having seen their eleven-game winning streak ended a fortnight ago at Crystal Palace, Arsenal have managed to keep their unbeaten record intact through a few tough games. While their momentum has been slowed, manager Unai Emery will be encouraged by his side’s resilience in the face of setbacks. They’ll need a little more of that on the back of news that forward Danny Welbeck is expected to miss the rest of the season due to a horrific ankle injury sustained in the side’s 0-0 draw with Sporting.
Wolves are dealing with their own contraction in form. Having lost just one of their first eight games, in the league, they’ve now been on the wrong end of three defeats in a row. The most recent, against Tottenham, was broadly expected, but the two before that, at home to Watford and at Brighton, won’t have left Nuno Espirito Santo in the best of moods. A fourth straight loss here wouldn’t herald a crisis – they’re in a decent 11th spot even now – but they could do with finding the resilient unity of August and September.
Arsenal vs Wolverhampton Wanderers Prediction: Arsenal 3-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers
A major feature of Arsenal’s slowdown has been that their attack was shackled in their last two big fixtures – Liverpool keeping them to a single goal last weekend, and then Sporting keeping them scoreless for the first time since August. While Wolves’ possession game has generally kept them on the right side of the defensive gods, it’s been on the blink since early October, and we can see this playing into the hands of Mesut Ozil and the prolific strike pairing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alex Lacazette. The Gunners might suffer a few blows defensively themselves, but we’d expect them to come out on top in an entertaining game.
Our recommended tip: Over 3.5 goals
One thing you can be sure of with this Wolves side is that they will not take the Newcastle approach of piling ten men in their own box for the duration of a game and hoping they can wait out 90 minutes. With expressive attacking players like Jota and Joao Moutinho, they’ll want to contribute to an even game, and this should be to the benefit of a decent spectacle. It’s in neither side’s interest to pull punches going forward and, with both sides going for the win, that should result in a few goals. Paddy Power have 7/4 (2.75) on the total being above 3.5, and that seems like a decent call.
Wolves were last in the Premier League in the 2011/12 season, and this will be the sides’ first meeting since then – getting on for seven years ago now. The first meeting of that season, at the Emirates, saw the hosts take an 8th-minute lead through Gervinho. They were unable to add to it, though, and a Steven Fletcher equaliser on 38 saw them come away with a point.
The return at Molineux, in April, was less joyous for a Wolves side by then certain of relegation. Sebastian Bassong pulled Theo Walcott down in the box on eight minutes and was sent off for a professional foul, with Robin van Persie dispatching the resulting penalty. Two minutes later, Walcott himself scored from a van Persie pass, and a 3-0 win was rounded off by Yossi Benayoun in the 69th minute.
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Players to watch: Hector Bellerin & Willy Boly
Right-back, Spanish international, and Twitter friend of Jeremy Corbyn, Bellerin is now one of Arsenal’s longest-serving current players, and his importance to the side goes beyond his steady presence at the back. Always keen to get forward, the Piers Morgan-mocking star has excellent delivery with his right foot, and he’s brought a steady stream of assists over the years. Given Wolves’ narrow playing style, he may well get the freedom to put in crosses for his attacking team-mates.
While Wolves’ ball-playing midfielders have taken most of the headlines this season, Boly’s resolute defending has ensured that tough games at Old Trafford and at home to Manchester City have been survived without defeat. Always a threat from set-pieces, the French centre-back will also provide a challenge for Arsenal’s still-wobbly aerial defences should Joao Moutinho get the chance to put his trusty delivery to use. Conceding seven goals in three games will have Boly in a mood to put things right.