Arsenal v Wolves: Get the low-down on Unai Emery's side
Wolves take on Arsenal this weekend hoping to end a run of three straight Premier League defeats.
We spoke with Premier League reporter Dylan Walsh, Peter Wood of the Le-Grove Arsenal blog, Express & Star reporter and Arsenal fan Jack Averty and Arsenal writer Josh Sippie to get a proper look at Unai Emery's men.
See what they had to say here...
Arsenal seem to have had quite the start to the Premier League season, how have you rated them so far?
DW: Despite the two defeats at the start of the season, it has been an excellent start to the Premier League in the post-Wenger era at Arsenal.
A 13-game unbeaten run that is still going on, world-class goals, and genuine improvement to many players in the squad, it has already been a season of many positives for Arsenal. And for the first time in a long time, it feels good to support this football club.
Life under new coach Unai Emery has been great, but not all has been perfect. Defensively we’re still shaky as the team adjusts to playing out of the back, and Emery is still trying to figure out what how to utilise Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang together in the same starting XI effectively.
But these are problems that will ease away as the season progresses, and the positives Emery has brought to the club outweigh the negatives still left over by Arsene Wenger.
PW: We started badly, but things really seemed to have progressed over the past month.
Emery rode his luck in the beginning, but the team is now defending better, attacking with more fluidity and delivering important results.
The league table doesn't lie, and we're within spitting distance of Manchester City.
JA: Really highly. We are a long way off challenging for the title and a long way off playing consistently the way the manager wants but we've come on leaps and bounds from last season.
We've played some scintillating football at times and shown a resilience that has been lacking for years.
JS: I'm thrilled with their quick transition. After a deflating loss to City and a hard-fought loss to Chelsea, we haven't lost.
Seeing as how the closest thing we had to compare the exit of Wenger to was the exit of Fergie from United (which they still haven't recovered from over there), it's safe to say that the braintrust here at Arsenal got things right.
Unai Emery is taking things in the right direction. I just didn't expect it to come so soon.
Obviously it's been quite a shift at the Emirates over the past 12 months, with Arsene Wenger moving on and Unai Emery taking over, how would you say Emery has done stepping into such big shoes?
DW: Many were sceptical about a new manager stepping in for Arsene Wenger when the news broke in April, but now I question why we were even worrying in the first place.
Unai Emery has done brilliant since sitting into the hot seat at Arsenal, and has not only won the dressing room over, but also the fans. His physicality towards training, his philosophies on the pitch, and his attitude towards squad rotation have all been a huge breath of fresh air for Arsenal this season.
We’ve also seen the likes of Alex Iwobi and Hector Bellerin blossom under Emery, and it’s this player development that we have enjoyed most as Arsenal fans.
These two players, as well as others like Granit Xhaka and Rob Holding, have been transformed since the arrival of Emery, and have all gone from scapegoats in the team to important figures in the starting XI.
PW: He's stepping into big shoes in the context of history, but he's stepping into size twos when you consider how poor Arsenal has been over the past 10 years.
There's been a lot of low-hanging fruit to pick at. Simple improvements to tactics, fitness, motivation, and a basic educational programme for the players has worked wonders.
JA: Emery has been great, he's clearly been drilling the players relentlessly on the training ground and it's showing on the pitch.
Defensively we're better, albeit nowhere near good enough, and he's also bringing the best out of players like Xhaka and Lacazette.
Emery has also shown he's not afraid to take on the big players, such as Mesut Ozil, who seemed to get an easy ride under Wenger regardless of their performance.
I think Emery's transition has been helped by the fact he wasn't taking on Wenger's dictatorship of the club. Whereas Arsene was the club and had the final say on nearly everything, now departed CEO Ivan Gazidis worked towards moving the club to a more continental model meaning Emery's role is plain and simple - coach the team. So far, so good.
JS: Better than I think anyone could have anticipated.
There was a degree of doubt regarding Emery's appointment, but just hearing that he had complete dossiers on all the players in his interview process helped instil a little belief.
He brought so much of what the club was missing under Wenger, he brought an expectancy to win, and he brought consequences for poor performances, he did not bring emotional decision making. He's been brilliant.
The Gunners have plenty of quality up-front and in attacking areas, are we really seeing the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang starting to click?
DW: Alexandre Lacazette has without question been our best player this season. The Frenchman has elevated his game massively since the start of the season where he started on the bench, and has since been an important player for us in the big games, and his relationship with Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang has played a part in that.
The two strikers currently have the best off the field bromance at the club, and this has led to the duo having a brilliant connection on the pitch, constantly linking up with one-another and regularly assisting each other when they’re both on the pitch.
Mesut Ozil, though, has been a weird one this season. He put in an incredible performance against Leicester City that single handily won us the game, but aside from that, he has been a missing player on the pitch on too many occasions.
PW: It's still early days for Mesut Ozil. He's suffered from a lack of form and clear motivational issues.
We need to see more from him and consistently. Auba and Lacazette really have come into their own. It's rare for two strikers competing for one place to click, but their bromance has blossomed and the output is undoubted.
Both offer something slightly different, Lacazette is more of a maker and a hustler, Auba is more a Trezeguet like fox-in-the-box. Their commonality is lethal finishing.
JA: Lacazette and Aubameyang are clicking like a dream. The two are clearly good friends off the pitch and it shows on the pitch.
One of the big questions for Emery was how would he get both players into his team whilst sticking to his preferred 4-2-3-1 system, and he's answered that emphatically.
Aubameyang has perhaps been spending more time out on the left than he would prefer but he seems happy to play his part for the team which is encouraging to see.
Ozil remains an enigma and still has consistency issues but when he's on his game he really is unplayable - just look at the Leicester game.
JS: In ways. I don't think they have fully clicked altogether yet, but they haven't really needed to.
When one falters, another is there to pick up the pieces. And each one is so good in their own regard, with so much quality elsewhere on the pitch, either from deep in the midfield or from fullbacks, that they don't have to be the only drivers anymore.
That said, I do look forward to when they all manage to click together.
What sort of transfer business did Arsenal do in the summer? And how have the new names done so far?
DW: The Arsenal backroom staff did a great job in the summer transfer window and greatly improved the team. Although not every signing has been a major success, each of the five new players to come in over the summer have added something we have been missing from the Wenger years.
Bernd Leno has impressed as Arsenal’s new #1 in goal, Matteo Guendouzi was an absolute steal for £7 million from Lorient, but it’s Lucas Torreira that has easily been the most best signing for us this past summer.
The Uruguayan is a player we have missed in the squad for years. A dynamic defensive midfielder that isn’t afraid to do the dirty work and get stuck in for a challenge. He has done so well we already have a song for him, which you will likely hear on Sunday afternoon should he start.
PW: Our transfer business started in January when Sven Mislintat took over transfers with Raul Sanhelli.
They've ripped out the deadwood, they've hired in Champions League experience, and they've peppered in some exceptional youth signings. This is a new Arsenal with a winning spirit and some exciting flair.
The rebuild is far from over, but the strategy seems to be incremental, we want Champions League qualification this year, then we'll work towards grander goals when the additional revenue comes in.
JA: The club brought in defensive midfielder Lucas Torreira, goalkeeper Bernd Leno, centre-back Sokratis, young midfielder Matteo Guendouzi and veteran right-back Stephan Lichsteiner.
On the whole the signings have been great, especially the midfielders.
Guendouzi is clearly raw but he turned in some great performances at the start of the season and the fans absolutely love his passion and commitment. He was banned for the Liverpool game but will be back against Wolves.
Torreira has been the stand-out signing and is the defensive midfielder Arsenal have been crying out for for years. Not only is he a great player but his signing has also freed up Granit Xhaka to concentrate more on driving the team up the field.
Leno has been good and is clearly better at playing out from the back than Petr Cech, but one suspects there's more to come. There are some grumblings over the role he played in Liverpool's goal last weekend.
Sokratis and Lichsteiner have added some much needed steel and experience to the team.
JS: Arsenal's big signings were Bernd Leno, Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and Stephan Lichtsteiner. I couldn't be happier with what we've seen.
Leno is the 'keeper of the future, he is a true number one to actually challenge Cech for the spot, rather than sit behind him.
Lichtsteiner has been a pleasant surprise, as he's been far more than the sideline leader many were expecting. He hasn't lost an ounce of his tenacity on the pitch.
Guendouzi has been such a positive performer, especially looking forward to the future. He took the Premier League by storm early on, but has since simmered down a bit.
The true gem is Torreira though. This guy fits into the starting XI like the long lost piece of a one-million piece jigsaw puzzle. Wenger had avoided buying a player like Torreira, but we can see now, once and for all, that this is the thing we've needed all along.
The Gunners are in the midst of quite an unbeaten run this season, what's been behind this? And how do you think a team can halt it?
DW: I think what has been behind this unbeaten run has been a mixture of the team finding it’s style under Emery and an easy fixture list. With any new manager, it takes a while for their tactics and styles to be implemented into a team, and we’re still seeing this now.
However, I think the footballing gods have been looking over us for most of this run. When you step back and look who we have played during this 13 match unbeaten run, barring Liverpool, we have played teams you highly expect Arsenal to beat. That’s not to take away some glory from this accomplishment, though.
PW: Lots of luck and belief. Arsene Wenger had a great squad at his disposal, Emery has been flexible to unleash its potential (so far).
JA: Arsenal are tough to play this season because they've added resilience to their attacking flair. Before the team would wilt when going behind in games but now they come roaring back. Defensive frailties remain though and Arsenal can be got at.
JS: The big thing that's been behind this is the will to win. Hector Bellerin pointed this out, that this will to win was brought by Emery.
Not all of the matches have been pretty. In fact, most haven't. But they're winning ugly games, which is another thing they were never able to do under Wenger.
As far as how a team can halt it, they'll have to jump on Arsenal early. They've been iffy coming out at the start of matches and have narrowly dodged taking deficits into half.
If they go down multiple goals early on, they might break that will.
Following this great start to the season, some fans and pundits are tipping Arsenal for a title challenge, do you think this is realistic?
DW: As long as Manchester City are in the Premier League, the title is too unrealistic of an aim for Arsenal, but it could be in realistic in a few seasons time.
For this season, the aim for Emery is simple, finish in the top four. And with how things are going this season, this objective is very realistic. We have already played the three unbeaten teams in the league once already, and with the likes of Manchester United stumbling and Tottenham potentially breaking this season, things are looking favour for Arsenal.
PW: Absolutely not. There will be a bad run at some point, we simply don't have the quality or the depth in our squad to sustain a challenge.
But at least we have a coach with a plan to hit those heights.
JA: No, defensive mistakes will be our undoing.
Man City are too good and we're also probably not better than Liverpool or Chelsea either. The Liverpool performance was highly encouraging however and I could yet be proved wrong.
JS: Absolutely. Conte won the title in his first year at Chelsea just by injecting some life into an already stacked crop of players.
Obviously we hope that Emery's impact will be a bit more long-term than Conte, but we're seeing similar things. No one has ever doubted Arsenal's skill on paper, it's just been a matter of bringing out the best of them, which Emery is doing.
How do you expect Arsenal to line-up against Wolves? What sort of system and XI can we expect?
DW: Arsenal have started with a 4-3-2-1 every single Premier League game this season. With a Europa League match against Sporting Lisbon coming up before the game on Sunday, Wolves could face off against an Arsenal side that has some rotation.
Arsenal are likely to start in a 4-2-3-1 formation with the following players: Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Mustafi, Kolasinac; Torreira, Xhaka, Iwobi, Ozil, Aubameyang; Lacazette.
PW: I expect a strong side because Wolves have a lot of clever players and are more than capable of an upset.
A lot will depend on who starts against Sporting, our toughest Europa opponents.
JA: Emery will stick to his 4-2-3-1. The most likely XI is: Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Mustafi, Kolasinac; Torreira, Xhaka; Aubameyang, Ozil, Iwobi; Lacazette. However the club have a big Europa League tie against Sporting Lisbon on Thursday night so there could well be some rotation for the Wolves game.
JS: It's been pretty consistent throughout. It will be a 4-2-3-1, Leno, Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Torreira, Iwobi, Ozil, Aubameyang, Lacazette.
The only selection question will be if he will opt for Iwobi or Mkhitaryan.
Do the Gunners have any injury worries heading into the game?
DW: Arsenal currently have three players out injured in the form of midfielder Mohamed Elneny, Greek starlet Konstantinos Mavropanos, and club captain Laurent Koscielny. All three are set to be out until mid-November.
PW: Sokratis and Monreal are still out.
JA: Sokratis and Nacho Monreal could well be back for the Wolves game but Mohamed Elneny and Laurent Koscielny are out.
Even if the first two don't make it it won't cause Emery too many headaches, Rob Holding has been great so far and the problems at left-back have been eased by the return of Sead Kolasinac.
JS: At full-back, yes.
Bellerin and Kolasinac were rushed back to face Liverpool and they looked healthy, but it'll be curious to see what Emery does.
Bellerin will almost certainly start, but depending on the health of Monreal, we may see either him or Kolasinac, whoever is healthier.
How have you rated Wolves from afar? Do you think a top half finish is achievable for them this season?
DW: Of the three promoted teams to come up from the Championship last season, Wolves were easily the team I was most excited for. They have an exciting project going on with some fantastic players, especially their Portuguese midfield duo of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho, and Nuno Espirito Santo has his team playing an incredibly stylish and pleasing style of football.
Wolves this season have proved their right to be in the Premier League with some great results, but what has surprised me most about them this season is their performances against the big clubs in the league. They were fantastic against the two Manchester clubs and were very unlucky against Tottenham last Saturday, so I am not expecting an easy game at the Emirates.
A top half finish is very achievable for Wolves, and if they keep up this big game mentality, they will finish in the top half for certain.
PW: I think they'll survive this season if they have a good December.
JA: Definitely, they are an extremely well-drilled team with some great players - I would love to see Ruben Neves in an Arsenal shirt.
The lack of a natural goal-scorer will hinder them but they're good enough to make the top-half and nobody will really want to play them this season.
JS: I actually have a soft spot for the Wolves, and was thrilled that they earned promotion last season.
They set a really clear direction for themselves these past couple years. (I actually wrote a feature at These Football Times about them) I definitely think they are a top-half calibre team.
They've had a bit of a rough patch these past three matches, but that's always bound to happen at some point.
Their near claw-back against Spurs showed their quality. I just wish they could have pulled off the full comeback!
Your match prediction?
DW: Wolves have constantly surprised in the games against bigger teams this season, but their form away from home could be their downfall this Sunday. Arsenal are still flying high in the league, and because of this I predict a 3-1 win for the Gunners.
PW: 2-1 Arsenal.
JA: 2-0 to the Arsenal.
JS: At the Emirates, off a thrilling test against Liverpool, I think the Gunners pull this one out 2-0.
Though I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't have a bit of a let-off after the high stakes draw last week. This is the kind of situation where a Wenger-controlled team would be deflated.
It's the first time we're seeing Emery in such a situation, so it'll be interesting to see.