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Which of Arsenal and Wolves looks more likely to finish in the top six after indifferent starts?

On the face of it, the issues facing Arsenal and Wolves look extremely similar ahead of their Premier League clash on Sunday.

Both have found league goals hard to come by with just nine each this season, somewhat offsetting their strong defensive performances which has seen the pair concede just 10 goals apiece.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s men sit a point and three places above their hosts on Sunday, with the sides looking to get back into contention for European football next season with a win. 

Mikel Arteta is facing mounting problems at Arsenal ahead of his side's clash with Wolves

Mikel Arteta is facing mounting problems at Arsenal ahead of his side’s clash with Wolves

Nuno Espirito Santo's men have also had a sluggish start to the new Premier League season

Nuno Espirito Santo’s men have also had a sluggish start to the new Premier League season

But despite their frustrating starts to the season, how similar are their problems, and how painless will it be for Nuno and his Gunners counterpart Mikel Arteta to find the necessary solutions?

The north London outfit’s barren run of failing to score from open play extended to nearly eight hours of football – or five top-flight matches – last weekend when they hung on to a goalless draw at Leeds following Nicolas Pepe’s sending off.

In fact, it was the Ivorian’s effort into the bottom corner against Sheffield United at the beginning of October which constitutes Arsenal’s last goal from open play in the Premier League, with their only other league strike since coming via Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s penalty in the win at Manchester United.

Arsenal's run without a goal from open play extended to five games against Leeds in a game which saw Nicolas Pepe sent off

Arsenal’s run without a goal from open play extended to five games against Leeds in a game which saw Nicolas Pepe sent off

Pepe's strike in October against Sheffield United was their last league goal from open play

Pepe’s strike in October against Sheffield United was their last league goal from open play

The Gunners captain’s spot-kick stopped a run of two top-flight fixtures without a goal, but they are now back to square one after failing to find the net in the subsequent defeat by Aston Villa and stalemate at Leeds. 

League leaders Tottenham are – perhaps surprisingly given the Gunners’ defensive instability over recent seasons – the only side who have conceded fewer goals than their north London rivals, but as Arteta pointed out after the draw at Elland Road, it serves little purpose given their current malaise at the other end of the field.

‘It doesn’t matter how good we are defensively,’ Arteta said.

Their only other goal since came with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's penalty at Man United

Their only other goal since came with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s penalty at Man United

Bernd Leno and Gabriel Magalhaes have helped keep the Gunners steady at the back

Bernd Leno and Gabriel Magalhaes have helped keep the Gunners steady at the back

But Arteta insists their defensive solidity counts for little given their current malaise up top

 But Arteta insists their defensive solidity counts for little given their current malaise up top

‘It’s not a lack of attacking players that we have, because we have attacking players on the pitch all the time, but we need some moments where we have to make decisions earlier, better and they have to be more ruthless.

‘But it’s the most difficult thing in football and sometimes we go through these patches and we have to overcome them and I have to help the players to do it as quick as possible.’

And to some extent, it appears Arteta is right. His side do possess a plethora of options in forward areas who brought a lot of excitement to the fanbase ahead of the new season.

Aubameyang had led Arsenal to a record 14th FA Cup win and seemed to be clicking in a front three with Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette, while Willian – who had enjoyed a stellar season at Chelsea – was added to the roster.

Spirits were high ahead of the new season after Aubameyang (centre), Pepe (left) and Alexandre Lacazette (right) led the club to a record 14th FA Cup

Spirits were high ahead of the new season after Aubameyang (centre), Pepe (left) and Alexandre Lacazette (right) led the club to a record 14th FA Cup

The Gunners then seemed to improve their options by signing Willian on a free transfer

The Gunners then seemed to improve their options by signing Willian on a free transfer

But that pre-season excitement is the most vociferous fans have been able to shout about their attacking talent, which has been lacking goals and inspiration in abundance. 

Aubameyang’s only other goal of the season was at Fulham on the opening day, a game since which Willian has failed to score or assist for his new club.

Pepe had to be content with minutes in cup competitions before earning his second league start of the season at Leeds, which he then succeeded in chucking away, while Lacazette’s three goals in his opening three games is now but a distant memory having failed to score at all since.

But where Arsenal’s Spanish boss may face questions is his assessment that he possesses the players to ensure the forward line starts scoring again.

Lacazette has failed to score sinced netting three goals in the opening three games

Pepe has had an indifferent 15 months in north London

But Lacazette has yet to recapture his 2018-19 form while the jury remains out on Pepe

Aubameyang's drop-off since signing a new deal may well just be pure coincidence

Aubameyang’s drop-off since signing a new deal may well just be pure coincidence

Lacazette, 29, has failed to reproduce anywhere near the sort of form that saw him named the club’s Player of the Year in 2018-19 after netting 19 goals across all competitions, while the jury remains out on £72million record signing Pepe after an indifferent 15 months in north London.

Questions are now being raised about whether the Gunners have caught Willian, 32, on the wane, with their only consistent creative spark this season coming through 19-year-old England international Bukayo Saka.

Aubameyang’s rut since signing a brand new three-year deal worth £250,000 a week may simply represent pure coincidence and a failure to take up good positions where he can harm opposition defences, but the lack of creativity behind him is no freak accident.

Aside from summer signing Thomas Partey, the Gunners lack a midfielder who – quite simply – has a proclivity to pass the ball forward on a consistent basis into dangerous areas, as the Gunners found out in the Ghanaian’s absence in the second half against Villa and at Elland Road. 

In fact, it is Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka who has been the club's best creative outlet

In fact, it is Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka who has been the club’s best creative outlet

The Gunners are also lacking a midfield spark, with neither Granit Xhaka (left) nor Dani Ceballos (centre) able to provide it

The Gunners are also lacking a midfield spark, with neither Granit Xhaka (left) nor Dani Ceballos (centre) able to provide it

Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny have always kept their passing safe and simple, while the only evidence that Dani Ceballos can match the profile of the midfielder Arsenal are crying out for came in a cameo at Liverpool, and is the reason behind the club’s interest in Houssem Aouar and Dominik Szoboszlai.

Their opponents on Sunday on the other hand not only have all the ingredients to carry out Nuno’s instructions but also to fulfil their bid of nabbing their regular spot in the Premier League top six.

The west Midlands club’s struggles this campaign cannot be ignored, with nine goals for a side containing the explosive Adama Traore and equally deadly Raul Jimenez unbecoming for a squad able to boast such attacking prowess.

Spain international Traore has come crashing back to Earth this term following a campaign in which he starred with 12 assists and six goals and terrorising countless left-backs.

Wolves have also struggled, with Adama Traore yet to register a goal or assist this season

Wolves have also struggled, with Adama Traore yet to register a goal or assist this season

That has had a knock-on effect on Raul Jimenez, who has just four goals to his name so far

That has had a knock-on effect on Raul Jimenez, who has just four goals to his name so far

The 24-year-old is yet to register a goal or assist this season from 10 appearances, and his drop in form has had a knock-on effect on Jimenez, a forward who has so often benefited from Traore’s good work but who has netted just four times so far in 2020-21.

Daniel Podence plays in a different style to his predecessor Diogo Jota, and despite his early promise still requires time to become the player his boss will want him to develop into after netting just once so far in 2019-20. 

However, unlike the Gunners’ dishevelled squad, the Molineux side appear to have all the prerequisites in terms of personnel and characteristics in place to make a dash for European football. 

We will never know if Conor Coady would have helped in preventing Theo Walcott’s opener in their draw against Southampton, but the composure and leadership the Wolves’ captain brings to his fellow defenders in additions to the responsibility he shoulders makes the England captain an indispensable figure.

But Wolves have all the right ingredients, starting at the back with captain Conor Coady

But Wolves have all the right ingredients, starting at the back with captain Conor Coady

Leander Dendoncker is equally as criticial in midfield and shields the backline from counters

Leander Dendoncker is equally as criticial in midfield and shields the backline from counters

Leander Dendoncker’s role for Wolves similarly cannot be understated, fast becoming the unsung hero of the midfield alongside Portuguese metronomes Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho.

The Belgian is key in shielding the backline when the full-backs have bombed forward, and his importance was underlined in the 4-0 defeat by West Ham, the only game he has missed so far this season.

He is the perfect compliment therefore to Neves and Moutinho, who have not only an abundance of creative tricks and passes in their locker but the ability to test the keeper from inside and outside the box.

And should Nuno manage to get his side firing on all cylinders with some of his key performers recovering their best form, they cannot be discounted from toppling the Gunners this season.

Neves has a proclivity for excellent distance shooting

Moutinho is also able to create chances with his excellent technical skills

He also allows Ruben Neves (left) and Joao Moutinho (right) freedom to express themselves

The £45m acquisition of Partey may make him a superior option to Dendoncker, and Gabriel Magalhaes could well develop the necessary leadership qualities once he has become accustomed to the Premier League.

But currently Arteta’s men lack the spark of Neves and Moutinho, the boldness of Traore to take on and beat a man, a player that can find space around the centre forward as sharply as Podence, as well as the reliable, experienced figurehead bringing it all together at the back.

The Gunners are unlikely to find solutions to all those problems in January, and unless some of their expensive buys of recent season enjoy a significant upturn in form, there may well be more pain on the way at Emirates Stadium in 2021 and a campaign without European football since 1995-96 on the horizon. 

Thomas Partey may be superior to Dendoncker but the Gunners are lacking in other areas

Thomas Partey may be superior to Dendoncker but the Gunners are lacking in other areas

Original article: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-8986413/Which-Arsenal-Wolves-looks-likely-finish-six-indifferent-starts.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ito=1490&ns_campaign=1490

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