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Wolves vs Arsenal Preview: Will The Gunners Be Top Of The Premier League At Christmas?

Arsenal go into Saturday night’s match knowing that a win will guarantee them being top of the table heading into the break for the World Cup while the Wolves players will want to impressive their new boss in Julen Lopetegui who will be watching on from the stands.

Wolves will be without a whole host of players coming into their final game before the World Cup break with Neto, Jimenez, Kalajdzic and Chiquinho all missing the visit of the Gunners. Former Chelsea striker Diego Costa will miss the game as well as he is serving the final game of his three-match ban that he picked up for a headbutt in away at Brentford.

Nelson Semedo is back from suspension and with the injured that Jonny picked up in their Carabao Cup win over Leeds United on Wednesday night is expected to come straight back into the starting eleven. Summer signing Matheus Nunes is carrying a shoulder problem but has trained in the lead up to the match as he looks a strong favourite to start against the Gunners.

Mikel Arteta and his team turn up at Molineux knowing that three points will be enough to secure them of top spot until Christmas with the World Cup break in play. The Gunners will be without Takehiro Tomiyasu who has missed the last two matches with a minor muscular problem and is not expected to be risked ahead of a World Cup campaign with Japan.

The only other injury is to Emile Smith-Rowe who has been a long-term absentee after undergoing successful groin surgery at the end of September after coming off injured in the defeat at Old Trafford. He is expected back in train in the coming weeks and will hopefully be back to some kind of match fitness when the league returns on Boxing Day.

For the hosts, it feels like unprecedented times not only is there a break for the first ever winter World Cup coming but they are also waiting for their manager to take charge as well. Julen Lopetegui will take over from Steve Davis on Monday but he will be in attendance at Molineux for the first time on Saturday night. Wolves currently sit nineteenth in the Premier League with only two wins all season which have both come by a one nil score line as they have fallen below expectation this year.

A side which many, including myself, backed to have a strong season and be easily in the top half of the Premier League clearly failed under Bruno Lage at the start of the campaign. He was sacked after a defeat at West Ham which left them in the relegation zone and not improving on last season’s tenth placed finish. After being initially turned down by Julen Lopetegui, Wolves did get their man at the second time of asking and as before mentioned the former Real Madrid and Sevilla boss will be taking over the duties from Monday.

The problem has been with Wolves this season like it always seems to be which is a lack of killer instinct in the final third of the pitch. They are brilliantly at moving the ball forward and play some lovely football but struggle at finishing off their chances with no out and out clinical goal scorer. In seasons gone by, they have relied upon a strong defence getting them through most matches and the odd goal upfront to get a one goal win. However, this season the goals have been leaking in a bit more at the back while nothing goes right further up the field. Wolves have netted just eight times in the Premier League this season and in all competitions have won only four times with three of them score lines being one nil.

Wolves have now moved away from their three at the back formation which had given them so much success under the leadership of Nuno and Lage in recent years to a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1. In some respects, the change has worked as in their last Premier League outing against Brighton they netted twice by also leaked three in at the other end. It’s clearly about getting the balance right in the starting eleven with the right amount of attacking force as well as getting back their old defence consistency.

It’s hard to pick out a danger man when Wolves have only netted eight times in the Premier League this season but instead, I picked out someone who is just simply a brilliant footballer in Ruben Neves. If you love football then you should love watching this man play the game as simply as that. He’s an excellent defensive midfield who holds and controls the game so well and as a goalkeeper you would never want to see him lining up a shot on the edge of the area.

Now at the age of twenty-five and after being at the club for five years, he has been officially named Wolves’ club captain for the season. This season he has netted half of Wolves’ goals for the season as well as doing a brilliant job defensively. The midfield battle will be so vital and always is at Molineux to stamp your authority on the match as well. Neves will provide a strong defensive base for Nunes and Traore to push on up the pitch but will get involved in an attacking sense on a number of occasions including set pieces. He’s a tricky player and Arsenal will need to make sure he stays quiet if they are going to get that all important victory.

The Gunners have been in stunning form in the Premier League and after a Carabao Cup third round exit at the hands of Brighton while playing a heavily rotated starting eleven will be hoping to bounce back. Last time out in the Premier League was on Sunday when they took all three points off Chelsea at Stamford Bridge as they answered another big question in their pursuit for the Premier League title. These are the kind of matches that have been the Gunners stumbling blocks in recent seasons but this new and resilient Arsenal don’t look afraid off anyone.

Molineux is always a tough ground to travel to and the Wolves players knowing that their new manager is watching them live for the first time will defiantly spur them on. The two sides played out two tight encounters last season with Arsenal narrowly coming out on top in both of them. I can see a similar one on Saturday night with it being a nervy and cagey affair at times but I will back Mikel Arteta’s side to come through it with that all-important win which will see them keep top spot for Christmas.

Score Prediction: Wolves 0 Arsenal 1

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