Arsenal’s stuttering form continued this week as Wolverhampton Wanderers came from behind to snatch a point at the Emirates. Following a League draw at home to Crystal Palace and a defeat to Liverpool in the Carabao Cup, the Gunners really could have done with getting their season back on track with three points against Wolves. Indeed, the North London side took the lead in the 21st minute, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang converted a Alexandre Lacazette pass. This was the Gabon International’s 50th goal for Arsenal, a feat which he achieved in just his 78th club appearance. For context, club legend Thierry Henry required 83. The striker’s influence for the club cannot be overstated, often putting the side on his shoulders and gaining them points single-handedly throughout his time in England.
Arsenal’s early lead, however, did little more than paper over the cracks which have been largely ever-present this season. Even without club captain Granit Xhaka, rested after his poor conduct, Arsenal’s midfield looked sloppy. Xhaka has often been accused of giving the ball away too often, but it was poster-boy Matteo Guendouzi regularly found guilty of this, including twice in the opening ten minutes. Whilst he is undoubtedly one of the World’s best young talents, he occasionally demonstrates his inexperience, and this game was such an occasion.
In Xhaka’s absence, every Arsenal fan prayed for a more dynamic midfield trio, with Lucas Torreira at the base. Emery clearly forgot to read the script, instead opting for a narrow diamond, in the same way he lined up against Liverpool. Whilst Mesut Ozil was finally restored to his favoured central role, record-signing Nicolas Pepe was consigned to the bench, and then not even called upon when the Gunners were seeking a second goal. Emery’s tactics remain questionable, and his future at the club surely must be under scrutiny.
For their part, Wolves looked the better side for large portions of the game, and often threatened to carve open Arsenal’s porous back line. The Gunners were let off on several occasions thanks to a poor final ball, or a lacklustre finish. Across the 90 minutes, Wolves had 15 shots more than the Gunners, and it was thus through a cloud of inevitability that the away side’s equaliser was scored. Raul Jimenez, a menace throughout the game, wriggled free to head in from a Joao Moutinho cross in the 76th minute. From this point onward, it was the midlands side who looked most likely to walk away with all three points, the home side forced to cling on. As spoils were shared, Arsenal were forced to rue another pair of dropped points which leaves them six points adrift of fellow London side Chelsea in the hunt for Champions League football.
In truth, Arsenal deserved little from the game, as they provided a damp squib of a second half in which they failed to have a shot on target. Such reoccurring failings cannot only be placed at the feet of the players, as Unai Emery failed to alter the dynamic of the game either tactically or through his substitutions. In playing a midfield diamond, Emery sacrificed width, which played into the hands of Wolves’ fullbacks. Lucas Torreira, the only recognised defensive midfielder in the Arsenal squad, was instead deployed as a central midfielder, leaving Matteo Guendouzi as the sole anchor, a job for which he is ill-suited.
As the dust settles, Arsenal must look at the cold hard facts of the situation they find themselves in; they have taken just 11 from their last possible 24 points, including draws against Watford, Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur. Their next fixture sees them travel to the King Power Stadium to take on top-four rivals Leicester City, who currently sit six points clear of the Gunners after defeating Crystal Palace today. The worst part of the entire situation is the lack of improvement in any area, which suggests that Unai Emery is perhaps not the best man for the job. Unless he does something to rectify the string of poor results, his job will be under significant threat, especially with Jose Mourinho rumoured to be waiting in the wings.