Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Wolves preview + Arteta on Saka, fouls, and tactics


It’s our final Premier League game before the World Cup break this evening as we take on Wolves at Molineux. Given that Man City are probably going to demolish Brentford at home in today’s early game, chances are we’ll need three points to go into the break on top of the table.

Speaking to the press yesterday, Mikel Arteta said there were no new injury worries for him to contend with, so anything other than the starting XI he selected for Chelsea would be a surprise this evening. It’s not quite a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’; more ‘That was very good, now do it again’.

The manager rested 10 of the 11 starters at Stamford Bridge, so there should be plenty of fresh legs out there facing a team who are moored in the bottom three. Wolves new boss Julen Lopetegui will be at the game today, and there’s always the threat of the new manager bounce. Players giving a bit more in front of the man who will be deciding if they play from now on, but with just 8 goals for this season and 22 against, their problems are obvious, and he’s got plenty of work to do with this team.

Which isn’t to say it will be easy, far from it. We had to work really hard to get a win there last season, although the most ludicrous red card you’ll ever see – and will never see again – did plenty to make our evening more uncomfortable last time out. If we can play the way we played against Chelsea though, and add just a bit more efficiency in the attacking third, then three points are well within our capability.

Arteta said of being top at the break:

It would be great, but our focus is to play better every single day and to try to play better tomorrow than we did against Chelsea. If we do that, our chances to win the game will increase and that’s where our focus is.

Being top at this point doesn’t win you any prizes, but it would still be a nice place to be. And when the second half of the season is so hectic, I do think points garnered in this first period will go a long way to decide final league positions. On that basis, let’s hope we can come away with the maximum tonight.

Elsewhere, I thought this was a really interesting exchange with regards Bukayo Saka being fouled a lot, a topic which has been front and centre of late. At his press conference, James asked:

Q: As a coach, is there anything you can do as a coach to prepare him for those challenges?

Arteta: Yeah, and there is a part that that we can do better and we have to be more intelligent.

James: What is that?

Arteta: I cannot tell you that!

James: Do you mean in terms of how you/the players respond to the referee on the pitch?

Arteta: No. With things that he needs to do on the pitch.

James: From a tactical perspective, or physical?

Arteta: Tactical perspective.

You can watch it here (from the start point of that line of questioning):

I do wonder exactly what he means. What first came to mind was giving Saka fewer passes when he’s got his back to a defender who is set to come streaming through to him to make a tackle, but that’s sort of part and parcel of his job as a winger. Maybe it’s about giving him more passes where he can get in behind, but the way teams set up now to defend against him, that space is very rarely there.

I’m still very firmly of the opinion that the opposition get away with far too much on Saka, and he doesn’t get adequate protection from the referees. On one hand, I can understand why Arteta doesn’t want to make it all about the officials, because I think we know there’s a pig-headed Ivory Tower mindset at PGMOL which might not take kindly to being told what to do.

But at the same time, when you see the stat below you can’t ignore the fact it’s skewed entirely the wrong way based on the laws of the game and the way they are being implemented in our matches:

Anyway, let’s see what happens today, and in the months ahead. After this evening, it will be the end of December before we see Saka in an Arsenal shirt again, so perhaps those tactical things will be in place then.

Right, that’s it for this morning. I’m not going to be around for the game this evening, but we’ll have all the usual stuff on site for you – including the live blog and post game stuff on Arseblog News.

More on the blog here tomorrow. Until then, have a good one.

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