Arsenal v Wolves preview: Julen Lopetegui heads to Emirates searching for perfection
Julen Lopetegui admits Wolves will need to be ‘close to perfection’ to get a result at Arsenal as he aims to give supporters a good end to the season.
The head coach’s main aim was realised weeks ago when Wolves survived relegation, and a difficult campaign now comes to an end in the capital tomorrow.
Lopetegui was full of praise for Arsenal and fellow Basque coach Mikel Arteta, and believes Wolves will have to be at their best to get anything from the game – having lost the last three Premier League games against the Gunners.
“I don’t think about the last matches or the statistics, I think each match is different,” Lopetegui said.
“I am sure they will want a big performance in front of their fans and we have to be ready to have a good answer as a team.
“We have to be close to perfection if we want to compete with them, because they are undoubtedly one of the best teams in the Premier League.
“They have a big demand for all their opponents, so we have to try to be close to perfection and have a good match.
“We always want to finish well. It was a pity in the last match to concede in the last minute in front of our fans.
“We want to give our fans a good day. It’s not easy of course, but we have to be ready.”
With one eye on next season and the players that could stay at the club, Lopetegui could ring the changes tomorrow to give players an opportunity to impress.
The head coach hinted at that possibility too, but is still eager to be competitive and try to win the game.
He added: “We are going to think about some changes and see which players we will choose for this match.
“Of course, we will try to pick the players that are ready to play and try to see different things. We will try.
“But, we will play a team that will demand a lot of us.
“They have been one of the best teams this season and been the leader for 90 per cent of the league. They deserve to win too.
“Mikel has done a fantastic job, his players too, so we know we’re going to have a very hard task and we have to be ready, despite which players we are going to choose.”
After picking up his fourth yellow card of the season last weekend, Lopetegui will serve a one-match touchline ban tomorrow.
The Spaniard is always animated on the sidelines and has tried to rein in his behaviour, and admits he must improve.
“Of course it’s a pity for me because I always want to be on the bench,” Lopetegui said.
“But I have to accept that maybe I have to do better in the next matches.
“I try, believe me I try. I don’t like myself when I see it and think ‘who is this stupid boy?’
“I have to improve myself, for sure.”
Mikel Arteta has warned Arsenal the competition will be even tougher if they hope to mount another Premier League title challenge next season.
Wolves visit the Emirates Stadium on Sunday for a fixture that at one stage looked like it would mark Arsenal’s coronation as champions for the first time in 19 years.
Instead they go into their final game eight points adrift of champions Manchester City, the same margin that Arteta’s side led by in early April, with their title tilt having finally been ended by defeat to Nottingham Forest last Saturday.
Arsenal’s challenge has wilted since they threw away a 2-0 lead against Liverpool at Anfield on Easter Sunday, followed by successive draws against West Ham and Southampton before City finally took control of the race with a thumping 4-1 win against the Gunners at the Etihad. Arteta called for his players to end a nevertheless memorable season on a high against Wolves, but pointed to what is likely to be an even more intense struggle next campaign if the club are to finally end a two-decade wait to be champions.
“The competition is going to be even harder next season,” said Arteta. “In my opinion it’s been the hardest this season in 22 years that I’ve been in this league.
“In order to (compete) we have a really promising plan, we have to reflect a little bit, take a step back, make sure this is the right one and go again with more determination and hunger in the tummies to do even better.
“Now is about finishing the season in style and providing a great performance and a victory in front of our people to show our gratitude.
“(We) received a lot of incredible energy they have given us throughout the season, and (we will) start to build for next season. We have to wrap it up in the best possible way. It’s been some journey, full of emotions.
“Looking with a bit of perspective, there’s a lot of things not only on the field that have happened at the club that deserve a lot of credit for a lot of people.
“We have to nail everything that we do, we have to seek excellence in everything that we touch and we participate in that’s going to have a big impact at the club.”
Arsenal’s late collapse was in part precipitated by the loss of defender William Saliba to injury in March, with the deputising Rob Holding criticised for failing to match the 22-year-old’s imperious form across the season.
Arteta remained hopeful that the back injury the defender picked up during the team’s Europa League exit to Sporting Lisbon will not stretch into next season and that he will be ready to resume training after the summer.
There is also optimism that Takehiro Tomiyasu, who has played only 21 times in the league due to injury, will be fit to take part in pre-season.
Arteta said of Saliba: “He’s evolving the right way, the last few weeks have been much more positive than the previous two months.
“We wanted to protect him, it’s an injury that needed some care and attention. We’ve been pretty conservative to give him the best possible chance to have a good pre-season and to go again next season.
“Tomiyasu will be (back) around pre-season like Willy, they’ll be in a good place. They’ve been working so hard the boys, it’s been a really difficult year for (Tomiyasu) with some issues that he’s had.
“He’s a tremendous person, a top professional, we just want him to be available because when he is he’s really helpful for the team.”