EPL

Big Match Focus: Arsenal v Wolves (Saturday 15:00 GMT)

By Sports Desk October 31, 2019

Arsenal desperately need a positive result against Wolves if they are to draw a line under a tumultuous week at Emirates Stadium, but Nuno Espirito Santo's men have a strong record against the top flight's 'big six'.

The Gunners have been reeling since they squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Crystal Palace in a game that saw Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka booed by his own supporters, and the visibly angry Switzerland international cupped his ear to the disgruntled crowd as he left the field.

The result left Arsenal winless in two league games and facing something of a crisis of leadership as they prepare to face Wolves, who arrive in north London unbeaten in their last five league matches.

Last season's FA Cup semi-finalists have conceded just three goals in that time, and Arsenal need only look at the champions to learn about the threat they pose - it is less than a month since Wolves stunned Manchester City at Etihad Stadium, Adama Traore scoring two late goals in a 2-0 victory.

All eyes will be on Xhaka, should he play, as fifth-placed Arsenal seek to stave off the challenge of five teams within three points of them in the Premier League table.

EMERY MUST FIND MEN WHO CAN GO THE DISTANCE

Unai Emery has rotated his Arsenal midfield continuously this season and he has no shortage of match-fit replacements for Xhaka should he opt to leave his under-fire playmaker out against Wolves.

Lucas Torreira and Joe Willock have both played deep-lying midfield roles in recent matches and Emery may opt to trust one of them alongside Matteo Guendouzi in what is likely to be a high-octane battle in the middle of the park.

Nuno likes to pack the middle of his midfield in away games and the combination of Leander Dendoncker, Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho helped Wolves come from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Newcastle United last time out.

That game followed a familiar pattern for Wolves, who have conceded the first goal in more Premier League matches (seven) than any other side this season, though they have come back to draw five of those games.

While the average time Arsenal take to score their first goal in Premier League matches is 39 minutes, Wolves take an average of 61 minutes to find the net.

Twice in league games this season Arsenal have led by more than one goal only to draw 2-2. As they go up against the division's comeback specialists, they can ill afford to slip up again.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: GRANIT XHAKA V RUBEN NEVES

Having left him out of the rollercoaster EFL Cup defeat to Liverpool at Anfield, Emery has a big decision to make about whether to recall the much-maligned Xhaka.

Gunners greats Ian Wright, Nigel Winterburn and Emmanuel Petit have been among the many to condemn his actions but a return to the XI has not been ruled out.

Should he get the nod, Xhaka could win back some favour with supporters by getting the better of Neves in a key midfield battle.

The pair operate in similar roles to vastly differing degrees of adulation, even as the Opta data portrays Wolves star Neves as generally less effective than the Arsenal skipper.

Xhaka has created four more scoring chances, registered three more tackles and provided three more blocks in the Premier League this season despite playing one game less.

He has additionally contested 33 more duels at a superior success rate and his passing accuracy of 86.54 per cent is comfortably in advance of Neves' 75.45 per cent.

However, the Portuguese former Porto man can lay claim to having made seven more interceptions than Xhaka, a skill that will prove useful as the visitors attempt to stymie their opponents' play in north London.

FORM GUIDE: WOLVES IN CAPITAL MOOD

The prospect of a trip to London will not daunt Wolves, who have not lost a Premier League match in the capital since March 2012, when Fulham thumped them 5-0.

They have won three and drawn four of their seven subsequent matches in the city, and their recent form has been good no matter where they play.

Nuno's men have scored in each of their last nine Premier League games and could set a club record in the competition by finding the net on Saturday. Only table-topping Liverpool (19) are on a longer current goal-scoring run in the competition.

Arsenal must make the most of early opportunities, given that Wolves have scored a league-high 85 per cent of their Premier League goals in the second half of games this season (11/13), and Emery will take heart from his side's imperious home record on Saturday afternoons.

Arsenal have not lost at home at this time on a Saturday since the opening day of the 2013-14 season (1-3 vs Aston Villa), winning 20 and drawing two since then.

Goals are rarely in short supply at the Emirates, where Arsenal have scored in each of their last 23 league games, but the Gunners have kept just one clean sheet in their last seven.

HISTORY SAYS...

Arsenal have faced Wolves 10 times in the Premier League, breezing to consecutive victories in their first six matches against them in the competition.

Since then, however, they have won just one of their last four (D2, L1) and they failed to win either of their clashes with Nuno's newly promoted side in 2018-19.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan rescued a point for the Gunners in this fixture last season, scoring an 86th-minute equaliser in a 1-1 draw, and Wolves were 3-1 winners when the sides met at Molineux in April.

That victory ended a run of 16 league games without victory against the Gunners and another win on Saturday would see Wolves recording consecutive top-flight wins against them for the first time since September 1979 (a run of three).

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