Lack of decisive edge is still an Arsenal weak point
Arsenal was expectedly dominant against a Wolves outfit under Bruno Lage that has successfully championed a defense-first approach all season long. If not for an uncharacteristic mistake by Gabriel Magalhães that led to Hwang Hee-Chan’s opener in the 10th minute, the Gunners would have at least gone into the dressing room during the interval level at 0-0.
Plenty of chances, but we trail at the break.
More to do in the second-half 👊
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) February 24, 2022
Mistakes aside, much of the onus of the scoreline after the first 45-minutes must fall at the feet of an Arsenal outfit that failed to craft their dominance into what would have been a goal they fully deserved. Come half-time, the Gunners had created three-times the total shots (10-3) in comparison to Wolves while having the lion’s share of possession. But despite the chances, Mikel Arteta’s men seem to still lack that extra one or two percentage points when it comes to their ability to be decisive.
This is not something that has been a trend across the entirety of the 2021-22 Premier League season, with Arsenal many times showing just how effective their attacking instincts can be when decisions come easier. On a number of occasions during the first half, the likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, and Alexandre Lacazette lacked the cutting edge and misdiagnosed how to handle situations they were presented with. Even though Arsenal went on to secure all three points at the death through Lacazette, if the Gunners are to continue in their hunt for a top-four finish, more consistency in this area is critical.
Wolves remain their own worst enemy
Speaking against the importance of being stout in defense is a fruitless gesture. Any club with ambitions of achieving big things must be able to defend. For all their attacking quality, both Manchester City and Liverpool are in the top two when it comes to defensive records in the Premier League. Before tonight, so too was Wolves, who came to the Emirates level with the Reds with 18-goals allowed and just one behind City.
But despite the platform that Bruno Lage has championed – and largely improved on – this season in the wake of the Nuno Espírito Santo regime coming to an end in the summer, Wolves remain their own worst enemy when it comes to their ability to impose themselves when in possession.
Wolves did so well to press and pounce early to find the match opener, and Hwang Hee-Chan really should have doubled the lead and secured his brace in the second half when he was through on goal from a relatively tight angle only for Aaron Ramsdale to get enough on his goal-bound effort to force Wolves to take a corner. But they are still a side that relies far too much on their ability to sustain pressure and cohesively counter. When asked to control proceedings, they remain ineffective in that task. That reason alone is an issue that genuinely hampers their chances of kicking on and upsetting the established order in the Premier League and a key reason why Wolves failed to take anything away on the night.
Martin Ødegaard; the missing link
Smooth as silk and as intelligent as any player that has turned up at the Emirates in recent seasons; Martin Ødegaard is the real missing link to this Arsenal side under Mikel Arteta. Though talk of further business for a center-forward (or two) in the summer continues to swirl as well as business with the view of improving the club’s central options in midfield, those upgrades do not define what can be for the club with the Norwegian superstar pulling the strings at the Emirates.
Martin Odegaard 8️⃣
“Arsenal’s best attacking player and always looked the most likely to open Wolves up.”
— Standard Sport (@standardsport) February 24, 2022
Tonight was yet another reminder of just how good he truly is. That quiet ability to dissect, analyze, and always find the right answer has become a hallmark of the way Arsenal conduct business on the pitch and why players the likes of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, and Gabriel Martinelli have started to shine so bright during 2021-22.
The ball security that Ødegaard provides in the central and attacking thirds are invaluable enough, but the way he always makes the right pass, with the correct weight and intention, invokes names – rightly or wrongly – like Bergkamp, Özil, and Cazorla; that key missing creative link that always made Arsenal one of the most vaunted attacking sides during their Premier League journey. Regardless of what happens in the summer, or for the rest of the season, Martin Ødegaard is arguably the next truly club-defining player.
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