Wolves claimed another top six scalp to seriously dent Arsenal’s hopes of a top-four finish next season.
In a crazy first half performance, Wolves clinically picked off the visitors and led 3-0 at half time after Diogo Jota strode through the Arsenal defence to slam home.
Earlier in the half Wolves flying wingbacks ran riot as left-wing back Jonny was fouled to allow a free kick goal by Ruben Neves – who now has more goals than touches in the opponent’s penalty area this season – and Jonny’s cross was then headed home by right-wing back Doherty.
Arsenal’s most consistent performer all season, Sokratis, pulled a goal back from a Xhaka assist but the Gunners left themselves far too much to do after an appalling first half at Molineux.
Arsenal were left rueing another bizarre team selection from Unai Emery and top-four qualification is out of their hands with Chelsea in better form and Manchester United with a better run-in. Wolves are now in pole position for 7th place and possible Europa League football next season.
Wolves big game record – blessing or quirk
This win in their eleventh game of the season against the top-six and it brought Wolves another win to go with victories against Manchester United twice, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham as well as other drawn games against Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea. Clearly, Nuno Espirito Santo has a blueprint against the top-six that brings superb results.
However, this needs balancing against defeats to many of the bottom sides including two against long relegated Huddersfield. Whilst it is harsh to judge a promoted side against the elite, it does raise interesting questions about Wolves and their development.
Are the players only getting up for the big games? Does Santo have a plan to unlock games against smaller sides who sit in on Wolves?
Wolves have enjoyed a superb first season back in the Premier League but given their investment and ambition, results against the elite have to be coupled with similar clinical performances against the bottom 14. If this happens Wolves may find 7th place is the least of their ambition in the coming seasons.
Emery tinkers to distraction
A first season that looked to be ending in an overachievement of 3rd or 4th place and a great European trophy chance is quickly becoming, well, “a bit Spursy.”
Arsenal followed lamentable defeats against Everton and Crystal Palace with another limp first-half performance on Wednesday night in Wolverhampton.
Emery has impressed with his tactical acumen in home wins against Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham and in a thrilling draw against Liverpool in which they were unlucky to not win. He also conjured up a comfortable 3-0 aggregate win against Napoli.
So why do Arsenal look so bereft of a plan and any kind of heart, wit and swagger in all other games?
Emery changed the starting line up again but to no avail and will be desperate for his good work and a possible platform for next season not to be undone by his unbalanced squad and his own inability to select a consistent starting eleven with a coherent plan.
Jota living up to preseason hype
The Portuguese forward was mentioned in every preseason preview as a possible star in the making, but initially failed to live up to the hype. Yet since a switch to a central role, Jota has proven his worth.
Against Arsenal Jota’s pressing, harrying and powerful running was indirectly involved in the opening two goals before he claimed the third for himself on the stroke of half time. Jota couples his pressing from the front with a deft touch and is now contributing goals and assists, the goal tonight taking him to eight goals and four assists with all but one of those assists coming since December.
If Jota hits the ground running like this next season it would be no surprise to see Europe’s giants calling.
Can Wolves hold onto their stars?
The recruitment process at Wolves has brought much criticism, most of it unjustified, but could it be on the verge of backfiring?
Many of the players at Wolves are seen to be using the club as a stepping stone to bigger clubs, an arrangement Wolves were happy with as it brought them promotion to the Premier League and now a fabulous season.
But now what? How long will the players feel loyal to Wolves if the opportunity to go elsewhere arises?
As mentioned Jota could easily develop into a Champions League level player, Raul Jimenez would improve every Premier League squad bar Manchester City. Midfielder Neves plays with such grace and organisation that it would be no surprise to see Manchester City view him as a Fernandinho replacement or Manchester United buy him to prop up their increasingly soft midfield.
Even wing backs Doherty and Jonny would fit in well at other teams with Chelsea and Manchester City in the market for left backs and Manchester United and Spurs in need of right backs.
Would Chelsea benefit from Santo over Sarri? Especially if a transfer ban makes “Sarriball” a none starter and focuses minds on improving players and systems rather than buying your way out of trouble.
It would be a shame if this Wolves team is broken up so soon but unless the ownership have a stream of youngsters from Portugal ready, it may be that they suffer the same as the rest of the league with their players cherry-picked.
Odd timing for an operation
Aubameyang missed today’s match and remains a doubt for Leicester on Sunday. Arsenal’s star striker missed the vital game due to having a sinus operation. Penny for Graeme Souness and Roy Keane’s thoughts on the timing of that operation?