PREVIEWING WOLVES MATCH THROUGH THE PRISM OF PALACE DEFEAT.
We started the game against Crystal Palace with an outfield back-7 of Jenkinson, Mustafi, Koscielny, Mavrapanos, Kolasinac, Elneny and Guendouzi. Despite the need for managing legs on account of the games coming thick and fast, it was a selection that smacked of overconfidence that might not be unconnected to our Napoli triumph. To be candid that bug reached my little universe as I was so confident that, come what may, at home we would win? So you see, am not qualified to point fingers. Palace made us pay for it.
Jenkinson, Mavrapanos and Elneny had played a combined total of only 417 minutes of Premiership football before the Palace match. Not match sharp, it was a wrong decision to put them together in one team as starters. That decision was further compounded by the inclusion in that back-7 of the error prone Mustafi, the defensively naïve Kolasinac and the young Guendouzi, who is yet to develop the defensive part of his game. It was a recipe for goals to leak. Our best defender Koscielny, alone in that group, was clearly insufficient to hold back the Palace attack. Isn’t hindsight so beautiful?
What else could have been done, with Monreal leg-tired, Sokratis and Xhaka not available, one could ask? Maitland-Niles and Torreira for Jenkinson and Elneny would have giving a different first half. Possibly also Lichsteiner (what about him?) for the inexperienced Mavropanos who was the harbinger of the 1st goal against us. It is said that well begun is half won so I’d rather that we always start with our stronger team and do the managing of legs with the substitutions. Premier league teams know how to close shop so better to start stronger to avoid losing balance and structure trying to shift happily parked buses with deflated tyres.
Against Wolves only two players look deserving of a start on the bench: Koscienly and Aubameyang who both have played 4 X 90 minutes matches in 10 days! Apart from these two, Emery should start his strongest team and manage tiring legs with substitutions. Sokratis is back from suspension, Monreal rested and Xhaka is expected to be fully fit.
I expect him to start this XI (8 changes):-
Lichsteiner (assuming he is still alive) should play in place of Mustafi who must be in a battered state after his error at Palace and the subsequent massive criticism of him from the fan base. His aggressive style is his cover for his deep seated sense of insecurity. Poor boy. It is good work by Emery trying to protect him. I hope the coach knows by now that Kolasinac is a winger not a wingback, so why not Iwobi in his place? At least Iwobi wouldn’t give a million backwards passes or cause needless dangerous free kicks against his team. Kola looks a tank but he appears to me another one with a fragile personality.
Bench: Cech, Mustafi, Koscielny, Kolasinac, Elneny, Guendouzi, Aubameyang.
If we suffer two consecutive losses at this late and delicate stage of the race our season stands to collapse. The silver lining is that Wolves seem to have experienced a drop in form, possibly due to an overuse of a thin squad. They would also be playing to win in search of the 7th spot. That probably suits us. We are 5th on the table with a game in hand to Chelsea who are 1pt above us. That leaves the destiny for a top 4 finish still in our hands. Last night, Spurs left it late in their 1-0 home win over Brighton to go 4pts ahead of us. With 4 games left for us, tonight is one that we just have to win.