Arsenal seemed on course for another frustrating night at the Emirates, but Mikel Arteta managed to overhaul the Gunners’ struggles against Bruno Lage’s Wolves side
Mikel Arteta did what all top managers do best when they are under pressure.
The Spaniard did to Arsenal what Jurgen Klopp did to Liverpool against Inter Milan, and what Pep Guardiola successfully does with Manchester City on a regular basis.
Pre-prepared or decided in the heat of the moment, Arteta turned to Plan B; tweaking his system and shifting the entire complexion of the contest when Arsenal were trailing 1-0 to an excellent Wolves’ side.
Except, these changes were neither like for like nor were they too reactive or too late – they were timed beautifully.
Elite management has not always been in plentiful supply during his rollercoaster years at Arsenal, but the 39-year-old reacted to the ongoing events in a manner befitting of the very best managers.
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Nicolas Pepe and Eddie Nketiah are often deployed in the hope they can drag the Gunners’ back into the contest.
All seven of Nketiah’s Premier League appearances have been from the substitutes’ bench, while £72million Pepe has only started one of the last 15 Premier League matches he has been available for.
However, their typical entrances into contests are trading places act where one ineffective duo of attackers are replaced by a fresh pair of wingers.
Instead, Nketiah replaced an almost surprised Cedric Soares, while Pepe was brought on for the energetic and tenacious, but sadly blunt Gabriel Martinelli.
A reshuffle off the backline was needed, Saka appeared to shift into left-wing-back while Pepe rained down fire from the right-hand side for the darting Alexandre Lacazette and Nketiah to feed off.
Six minutes later, Arsenal were level. Nketiah with the assist and Pepe with the vital goal, his first of the season, and perhaps one of the most important of Arsenal’s top four challenge.
In the dying stages of extra-time, Pepe fed Lacazette with a perfectly weighted pass, and via deflection off Roman Saiss and another off Jose Sa, Arsenal had snatched the points from Wolves ’ jaws.
Pepe would have been accredited with an assist had Lacazette’s initial effort been on target, but alas the Ivory Coast star would not be too upset.
Very few managers have the gumption, confidence, and boldness to overhaul their formation against a Wolves side whose counterattacking skills have seen them barge their way into the battle for the top four.
But even fewer managers have the firepower and quality from the bench to deploy should they sense the match getting away from them. Pepe is Arsenal’s record signing and would surely not have envisaged being reduced to a mere super substitute when he initially arrived into the Emirates Stadium from Lille.
His move is often exhibit A when pundits and journalists mourn Arsenal’s transfer failures in the post-Arsene Wenger era. But unlike many of his expensive counterparts, Pepe is young, hungry, and most crucially still at Arsenal.
Pepe currently finds himself stuck behind Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe, and Martinelli in the pecking order, but there is no reason why he cannot push for a starting eleven position in the same way Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, and Riyad Mahrez routinely knock each other off their first-team perches.
Guardiola has the luxury of being able to rotate his main players as there are a host of stars who can also affect and spin a contest in the same fashion.
It is an expensive and difficult luxury all managers in world football strive, but so rarely achieve. While not yet close to Liverpool, City, and to a degree, Chelsea, Arteta has a wonderful quartet of wingers to call upon in times of seemingly inevitable loss.
However, he only has that luxury on the flanks, and is currently struggling for extra options in his forward, midfield, and defensive areas.
And if he can further improve his current options and possibly add some extra firepower to those areas, then the ecstatic scenes experienced against Wolves may not only become more common, but may also include the subtle addition of major trophies.