Pre-Match Report

Premier League: Arsenal v Wolves - Preview

Emirates Stadium

By Richard Clarke

Arsène Wenger has only one word of advice for Robin van Persie as he pursues Alan Shearer’s record for Premier League goals in a calendar year - relax.

The Dutchman has 34 strikes in 2011, just two shy of the Englishman’s tally. But time is running out fast.

The 28-year-old has only Wolves on December 27 and QPR on New Year’s Eve to get the three goals required. Wenger has vowed to do everything he can to help Van Persie accomplish the feat but one thing he will not do is harm his side’s pursuit of Premier League points.

Arsenal consolidated their position in fifth with that hard-fought 2-1 win at Aston Villa on Wednesday night. Another 180 minutes in the following nine days may be considered too intense for a player that has not only been key to the resurgence of Wenger’s side this season but has suffered with injuries in the past.

“It will be a big demand for Robin,” admitted the manager. “I don't know yet what I will do. We will assess the situation after every game.

“I don't want to stop him. I will be very happy if he does it but he needs to combine the record with staying fit.”

Meanwhile, even if he does play in both games, Wenger is wary of Van Persie pursuing the record too hard.

“I have seen it before with Ian Wright,” said the Frenchman. “He was aiming for a record and he didn't score.

“Afterwards he said, ‘I am not bothered' but you know, with Ian Wright, the one thing he thought about day and night was scoring the next goal.

“It was a little while for Thierry as well [when he approached a record]. It is always on their minds a little bit but they should not make an obsession of it, just play naturally. It is strange but you score goals when you don't think about it.”

Wenger believes that Van Persie would understand if he was rotated in one of the two remaining games this year.

“You get the medical vibes with him and, of course, you know the history,” said the Frenchman. “Then you can make a decision.

“I did it in the Champions League recently because I thought we had enough security there and we could take a gamble. Also he was very tired after the Chelsea game [on the previous weekend].

“But anyway the great players know what is important. He is the leader of the team and he knows it is important to win the games.

“And what is important for me now is he stays fit. If he is fit he will score goals. It's as simple as that.”

There is a small chance that Johan Djourou will have recovered from his groin problem and return to the group, otherwise Wenger will pick from the same squad that beat Villa.

That victory took their tally to 25 points out of a possible 30. Wenger must be eyeing a full house during the rest of the festive period as they do not play a side above 13th place and, given the visit to Fulham on January 2, will not leave London.

“Yes, all that can be an advantage but it will only be real if we turn up and play good games,” said Wenger. “Over Christmas what is at stake is how much time you can spend with your family, but as well you can’t forget that you are a football player who wants to play and win matches.

“This period is vital because you play many games. We are on a good run and you want to take advantage to continue it. We are still running after the points we dropped in August. We haven’t lost any ground since then but the Premier League is a consistent test and if we are consistent ourselves I am sure we will have some chances to come back.”

Wolves have lost six of their last nine games in all competitions. A bright August has long since been forgotten and a relegation fight looms. They come into this game one point and one place above the drop zone, having picked up just four points out of a possible 32 on the road this season.

That said, any side managed by Mick McCarthy will not lack effort. They may be polarised personalities but Wenger has a lot of time for his opposite number.

“I like Mick McCarthy because behind his severe outlook he is a guy who plays in a fair way,” said the 62-year-old. “His teams go for it and he has a positive approach to the game.

“It reflects his real personality. He is a guy who loves football. He is a fighter and will keep going until the last minute. And that's what you expect from them against this time.”

Of course Arsenal did exactly that at Villa to secure one of the most satisfying wins of the campaign so far. Wenger spoke of weary limbs afterwards so expect a shuffle against Wolves.

Yossi Benayoun’s late strike in Birmingham gave the Emirates Stadium side another shove of momentum after their long unbeaten run had ended at Manchester City the previous weekend.

A good Christmas will pour pressure on the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea just above them.

It would also bode well for 2012.

Team news:

Arsenal: Santos (ankle), Mannone (shoulder), Wilshere (ankle), Gibbs (groin), Jenkinson (back), Diaby (hamstring), Sagna (ankle), Djourou (groin)

Wolves: O’Hara (groin), Craddock (hamstring), Edwards (groin), Foley (ankle)

Match stats:

Ref: S Attwell

Arsenal have not conceded a League goal against Wolves since November 2009.

Arsenal have won all six Premier League games between the two sides

Wolves’ last League win over Arsenal came at Highbury in
September 1979

Arsenal have scored 85 per cent of their goals from open play, the best tally in the Premier League this season

Arsenal have conceded the lowest percentage of headers in the Premier League this season – eight per cent

See Full List

Fixtures & Results

Premier League
Ticket Info