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January was a stop-start month for the Premier League. Due to the FA Cup, a postponement and an international break, Arsenal only played twice in the first month of 2022. Wolverhampton Wanderers were in action three times but have not contested a top-flight fixture for more than two and a half weeks. A much busier schedule awaits. Covid-19 has disrupted the calendar once again this season, leaving virtually every club in the division with ground to make up.
Arsenal will be chomping at the bit to return to action on Thursday. January was not particularly kind to Mikel Arterta’s men. They suffered a shock defeat by Nottingham Forest in the third round of the FA Cup, ending the club’s chances of winning that tournament for a record-extending 15th time. The Gunners were also knocked out of the League Cup at the hands of Liverpool. In the Premier League, they were beaten 2-1 by Manchester City and held to a goalless draw by Burnley.
Arsenal therefore need to get their top-four bid back on track in February. Before the start of this midweek round of fixtures, they were only two points adrift of the final Champions League spot. Given they were not widely expected to qualify for Europe’s foremost club competition this term, that is a healthy position for the Gunners to be in after 21 matches.
At the same time, Arsenal are only six points above ninth place at the time of writing. Arteta’s young, hungry side has demonstrated signs of progress this season, but there is still a question mark over Arsenal’s mentality. Bouncing back from moments of adversity is an integral part of being a top team, and the Gunners must now show they are capable of going on another winning run. With Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur also fighting for fourth spot, Arsenal cannot afford to shoot themselves in the foot.
If Wolves emerge victorious on Thursday, they too might be billed as genuine top-four contenders. It could be argued they already are. Bruno Lage’s side are currently eighth in the standings and sit four points behind fourth-placed Manchester United as of Tuesday. They have played fewer games than some of the sides above them, such as the Red Devils and West Ham United. They might be outsiders, but Wolves are certainly involved in the Champions League race.
Their success so far has been built on defensive solidity. That was one of Wolves’ strengths under Nuno Espirito Santo, who did a fine job at Molineux until things went a little awry last term. But since Lage’s appointment, Wolves have been even more watertight at the back. Only Manchester City have a better defensive record this term, with Wolves having conceded just 16 goals so far.
The flip side of the coin is a relatively anemic attack. Burnley and Norwich City, two relegation contenders, are the only teams in the Premier League who have made the net bulge less often than Wolves up to now. Yet despite their underwhelming record when it comes to scoring goals, Lage’s charges have the opportunity to leapfrog Arsenal with a win on Thursday.
The confidence generated by Wolves’ three-match winning run in the Premier League last month will have been dented slightly by Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Norwich in the FA Cup. The top flight is Wolves’ bread and butter, though, and they may benefit from having played at the weekend. In comparison, Arsenal have participated in just one match in the last month.
This feels like a game that will be decided by narrow margins. Only four times this season has a Wolves match been won or lost by more than a one-goal margin. Their encounters tend to be tight and low-scoring, which is why it makes sense to consider backing under 1.5 goals here.
That is a bet that would have been successful in eight of Wolves’ last 10 matches. Arsenal’s most recent outing was a 0-0 draw with Burnley, and the Gunners are not the most reliable side when it comes to breaking down deep defenses. Arteta’s men have made progress in that regard but they can still be frustrated by solid backlines such as Wolves’.
Anyone expecting a high-scoring affair with plenty of action in both penalties areas is likely to be disappointed. One goal might be enough to win this match, as Wolves and Arsenal seek to boost their chances of a top-four finish.
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|Wolves vs Arsenal Information
|Wolves vs Arsenal
|Molineux, Wolverhampton, England
|Thursday, 10 February 2022, 2.45 PM EST
|How to watch
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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