Wolves preview + Arteta on Saka, fouls, and tactics

Morning.

It’s our last Premier League game before the World Cup break tonight when we take on Wolves at Molineux. Given that Man City are likely to demolish Brentford at home in today’s early game, we will likely need three points to go into the break at the top of the table.

Speaking to the press yesterday, Mikel Arteta said he didn’t have any new injury concerns to deal with, so anything other than the starting XI he selected for Chelsea would be a surprise tonight. It’s not exactly a case of ‘if he ain’t broke, don’t fix him’; more ‘That was great, now do it again.’

The manager rested 10 of the 11 starters at Stamford Bridge, so there should be plenty of fresh legs facing a team that is locked in the bottom three. New Wolves boss Julen Lopetegui will be in today’s game, and there is always the threat of the new coach rebounding. Players giving a little more in front of the man who will decide if he plays from now on, but with only 8 goals this season and 22 against, his problems are evident and he has a lot of work to do in this team.

Which does not mean that it will be easy, far from it. We had to work really hard to get a win there last season, though the most ridiculous red card you’ll ever see, and never see again, did a lot to make our night more awkward last time. However, if we can play like we played against Chelsea and add a bit more efficiency in the attacking third, then three points are within our reach.

Arteta said of being the first at the break:

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

Being first at this point doesn’t get you any awards, but it would still be a good place to be. And when the second half of the season is so hectic, I think the points gained in this first period will go a long way in deciding the final league positions. On that basis, let’s hope we can come out with the maximum tonight.

On the other hand, I thought this was a really interesting exchange regarding Bukayo Saka getting fouled a lot, a topic that has been front and center lately. At his press conference, James asked:

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

Arteta: Yes, and there is a part that we can do better and we have to be smarter.

Jamie: What is that?

Arteta: I can’t tell you that!

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

Arteta: No. With things he has to do in the field.

James: From a tactical or physical perspective?

Arteta: Tactical perspective.

You can see it here (from the starting point of that line of questions): https://youtu.be/4poRO9ArcoI?t=256

I wonder exactly what it means. The first thing that came to mind was giving Saka fewer passes when his back is to a defender who is ready to get to him for a tackle, but that’s an integral part of his job as a winger. Maybe it’s about giving him more passes where he can get in behind, but the way teams now set up to defend against him, that space is rarely there.

I remain very adamant that the opposition gets away with too much with Saka, and he doesn’t get adequate protection from referees. On the one hand, I can understand why Arteta doesn’t want to do everything about officials, because I think we know there is a stubborn Ivory Tower mentality in PGMOL that might not take kindly to being told what to do.

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

Anyway, let’s see what happens today and in the coming months. After tonight, 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.

Well, that’s all for this morning. I won’t be around for the game tonight, but we’ll have all the usual stuff on the site for you, including the live blog and in-game posts on Arseblog News.

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

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