Pre-Match Report

Premier League: Wolves v Arsenal - Preview


By Richard Clarke

"I feel that since October the team has moved forward a lot. We are stable and, if we finish this season well, it will be a great encouragement for next year to start again in a strong way. But it depends how strong we are in the final six games. And to be strong in the final six games you want to be strong in the next one."

That, right there, is about as forward-looking as Arsène Wenger is prepared to be right now.

The same theorists that wrote off his side's season are already starting to predict big things for their next campaign. There is a back-of-the-cigarette-packet logic to it.

Yes, Arsenal are bang in form.

Yes, they had a good Easter and their main opponents did not.

Yes, they will be five points clear of Tottenham if they win at Wolves on Wednesday. And their advantage could be as much as 11 by the next time Harry Redknapp's side play a Premier League game.

But no, no and no again. Nothing is done.

"If you look at the results in the Premier League it tells you how vital the next game is," he told in his only pre-match interview.

"Teams drop points when you don't expect them to. It is about focus.

"So for us I believe that this game is important on two fronts - for the table of course but also we have been remarkably consistent for two months and it is important that we keep doing that.

"No, [there is no points target for third]. The only target to achieve is that we get our resources together for the next game. That is the only way to do it. You don't know what the others will do so let's just win our games."

It is a tunnel vision. A blinker that allows his side to look after the games while leaving the points to look after themselves.

Even Arsenal’s only defeat amid a run of eight wins - at QPR 10 days ago - will not be part of the pre-match preparation.

"No [I won't talk about it] because to remind them of disappointments doesn't help," said Wenger. "What is important for us is the level of performance we aspire to achieve.

"We got a great response [to the QPR game] against Manchester City. Style, desire and all the aspects you want in a big game were there. We made very few errors at the back and we kept going with the spirit that is in the squad, one that we now know well. In the end we got a very late winner but it was a consequence of keeping them under pressure and keeping going."

The clean sheet was Arsenal's third in four games but the defence must reshuffle for the trip to Molineux. Laurent Koscielny picked up his 10th booking of the season on Sunday and will be suspended for two games. Meanwhile Kieran Gibbs has a minor groin problem. Johan Djourou and Andre Santos will be the replacements at centre back and left back respectively.

Wolves are rock bottom, out of form and seemingly staring relegation in the face. They have picked up just one point from their last eight games and, during that run, conceded five goals three times. The same period also saw Mick McCarthy removed and Terry Connor take over. With seven games to go, Wolves are two wins away from climbing the table.

"They are a team who are under pressure because they do not get points in the Premier League and their situation is difficult," said Wenger.

"But you always have hope until mathematically it is impossible.

"Wolves have given a hard game to everybody this season. They unfortunately lost Mick McCarthy but when you go there [to Molineux] you always have a tough time.

"We should not expect any weakness or disappointment from them, even if it is certainly there. You only win away in the Premier League if you play with full commitment and the Man City game should be an inspiration for us to repeat the same performance."

Everything points to an away victory. In fact the last time Arsenal seemed to be this much of a shoo-in was... er... the last time they lost.

The Arsenal against Manchester City will win on Wednesday. The Arsenal against QPR will have much more trouble. And, remember, those versions were on show only eight days apart.

Meanwhile, Wolves have their own blueprint available - the 1-1 draw at Emirates Stadium. Gervinho struck early but Stephen Fletcher guided home a header and despite seeing Nenad Milijas sent off they held on to inflict arguably the most disappointing home result of Arsenal's season.

"They defended very well and they made it very hard," said Wenger. "Their goalkeeper made miracles at the Emirates, you have to give him credit because he was man of the match by a distance. As long as these teams are not broken down they fight like mad. On the day I felt that they battled hard and Wayne Hennessey made the rest."

To be honest, that Christmas game seems a lifetime away. At the time, Wolves seemed to be a cut above the relegation zone while Arsenal fans feared Tottenham's team were capable of superseding their own side for the first time in a generation.

You would not bet on either scenario materialising anymore. But they are still possible and still plausible.

And while that is the case, the focus must be total.

Team news

Arsenal: Gibbs (groin), Coquelin (hamstring), Frimpong (knee), Mertesacker (ankle), Wilshere (ankle), Gervinho (ankle), Koscielny (suspended).

Wolves: Henry (doubt - hamstring), O'Hara, Hunt (both groin), Craddock (hamstring).

Match facts

Wolves last beat Arsenal on October 14, 1978.

Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal have won on every visit to Molineux.

Wolves have failed to score in only nine games this season; a record better than half of the top flight.

However Wolves have not scored in the first 15 minutes of a Premier League game this season.

If Wolves let in a goal they will have gone 30 Premier League games without keeping a clean sheet.

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