Arsenal v Wolves: Defensive battle in the race for Europe
As the race for the European spots hots up Wolves travel to Arsenal for what Ben Steele expects to be a low scoring affair...
Stingy defences on show at the Emirates
Sixth hosts seventh as Arsenal and Wolves play for the second time in 11 days. This fixture was originally scheduled for December but Covid cases in both squads saw it moved to Thursday night and become the first of many games in hand the two clubs have on the top four.
The key reason both sides are in a position to be chasing the Champions League places is, largely down to the strength of their defences. Bruno Lage's first year in charge at Wolves has been typified by an incredibly settled starting lineup. Eight players in Lage's squad have featured in at least 22 of Wolves' 24 league games with Max Kilman, captain Conor Coady and keeper Jose Sa forming a solid trio of ever-presents in defence.
Lage's naturally defensive set up has been incredibly effective, despite being the third lowest scorers in the league his side are just six points off fourth placed Manchester United, thanks largely to the fact that only Manchester City have conceded fewer league goals.
54% of all Wolves games this season have featured one goal or fewer, and we could be on for more of the same this week.
While Arsenal's overall lineup has been less consistent, Mikel Arteta has also benefitted from a solid defensive core. Ben White, Gabriel and Aaron Ramsdale were brought together to martial the Arsenal back line three games into the season with Arsenal having conceded nine goals. Since then they have conceded 17 with Ramsdale keeping 11 clean sheets in his 20 league appearances for the Gunners.
The last game between these two sides ended 1-0 to Arsenal and I wouldn't be surprised to see a similar scoreline on Thursday. Wolves have played nine games against the current top six so far this season, seven of those have ended 1-0 so with Under 1.5 goals priced @ 3.05 I think it's worth a look.
Wolves can make Arsenal regret celebrations
Arsenal's win at Molineux came after a hard fought defensive battle which saw Arteta's side play the last 20 minutes with 10 men. Their celebrations after the final whistle, however, did not go unnoticed by Ruben Neves.
Speaking to the BBC the Portuguese midfielder said the celebrations showed the level that his side are now playing at, before adding "it was like they won the league." Neves is a fiery character and a clear leader in the dressing room, he will undoubtedly be looking to return the favour at The Emirates. His side's recent form will give him reason to believe too.
Since the turn of the year the Neves and his teammates have won five of their six league games, including impressive away wins against Spurs and Manchester United and a comfortable 3-1 win over a Southampton side who are on a strong run of form themselves.
Arsenal will be buoyed by their own impressive form, the win at Wolves was followed up by a 2-1 win over Brentford at the weekend, but despite Emile Smith-Rowe's best efforts they do still lack a natural goalscorer. Wolves will be happy to sit deep and reduce the space for the likes of Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka and attack on the counter.
The potential return of Pedro Neto gives Lage's side a little more attacking threat and Wolves to win @ 6.2 on the Betfair Exchange is a huge price in a game that will be decided by the finest of margins.
Gabriel can continue curious scoring run
While Arsenal certainly lack a consistent goal threat upfront they do have a man at the back who has caused Wolves trouble every time he's faced them. Centre back Gabriel has averaged a goal every nine games in his Arsenal career, a pretty respectable record, but that hit rate goes through the roof when it comes to games against Wolves.
The 24-year-old has faced the Midlands club twice in his career and scored on both occasions. Unsurprisingly, both goals have come from set pieces where he is the main Arsenal target and has been a constant threat in that department this term.
Gabriel, who is enjoying the most prolific season of his career, is 7/1 to score anytime and make it three goals in three against Wolves, in a must win game for both sides.
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