Wolves v Arsenal preview: Bruno Lage is piling on the pressure
Bruno Lage is piling pressure on his Wolves team to 'do better' as they prepare for a season-defining run of February fixtures.
Starting with Arsenal tonight, Wolves will play five games in 17 days all against teams vying for European spots.
Lage has always demanded the best from his players but has often eased pressure on individuals.
However, with a make or break run of matches coming up Lage has now changed tack and called on his players to show the fight they lacked in the FA Cup loss to Norwich last week.
"Now is the right time to make pressure because we are on 34 points and that can give us comfort, but I don't want anyone comfortable," Lage said.
"Now is the time to come, step forward and show character to continue to play with ambition to win more points and conquer more things for the club.
"They're important games because the teams are there near us and, first, we need to come with personality and character to play our game and win the game."
Wolves are currently eighth and six points off fourth-placed West Ham, but with three games in hand on the Hammers.
They will also leapfrog sixth-placed Arsenal if they beat them under the Molineux lights tonight.
When asked if the players are targeting a top six finish, Lage said: "They need to think about that because the challenge is that, to do better.
"The better comes for tomorrow. Here we go again with solid training and solid performances.
"That defines what I believe about character. I am here and I want more.
"It's so important the things we can see in training and in games and that's why I was so upset after the last game because these players deserve good things with the way they work.
"To not continue in the FA Cup was a frustration because we deserve more than that.
"It's my way to be in life. I don't talk too much about me, I have a big staff who are responsible for their tasks and I am one more guy. I believe a lot in the way we work.
"But I want more, for me, my staff and my players."
Wolves have been given a squad boost as Francisco Trincao is set to return after missing the Norwich game through Covid.
Romain Saiss is also back with the group and is likely to be involved after spending January away with Morocco at the African Cup of Nations. The defender was then given a break and missed the FA Cup clash last week.
Lage has said "let's see" regarding the fitness of Hwang Hee-chan as the forward targets a return following his hamstring injury in December, while Yerson Mosquera, Willy Boly, Jonny Castro Otto and Pedro Neto are all at different stages in their recovery from injuries and will not be available.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta insists he was not the "problem" which caused Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to leave for Barcelona – but instead was trying to be the solution to ongoing issues with the striker.
Aubameyang left the Emirates Stadium last week after becoming the latest player to agree a contract termination with the club, allowing him to sign for the Catalan giants on a free transfer.
The 32-year-old had not played for Arsenal since December after he was dropped and stripped of the club captaincy by Arteta as a disciplinary measure after returning late from an agreed break.
Asked at his unveiling as a Barcelona player what had happened in north London, Aubameyang replied: "I think it was a problem just with him (Arteta).
"I can't really tell you much. He wasn't happy and that was it. I can't say anything else because that's what happened. I wasn't very happy and I'm better this way."
Arteta, though, countered those claims as he addressed the media on the eve of Arsenal's Premier League trip to Wolves.
"You ask the question directly to me, so I respond. I am extremely grateful for what Auba has done at the club, for his contribution since I have been here and the way I see myself in that relationship is the solution, not the problem," he said.
"What I am saying is that I've been this solution, 100 per cent, I can look in the eye of anybody.
"I do lot of things wrong, for sure. But the intention all the time is the best – and not for me, it is for the club and for the team."
It is not the first time Arteta has won a battle of wills with the club's top earner after Mesut Ozil was ostracised from the first-team before he left for Fenerbahce in January 2021 after his contract was terminated. Such decisions may raise eyebrows but Arteta believes they are in the best long-term interests of the club.
"I don't send (a message)," he said.
"It is not me here, it is the club and we make the decisions to defend the club, to try and improve the club as much as possible to respect the values and traditions of this club.
"Obviously you talk much more about the difficult decisions than the positive ones. But there are far more positive decisions than difficult ones .
"But those ones (terminating contracts), at the end, I think they will become very, very positive as well but today that is probably difficult to see."
Asked if the club were now past the point where they had to release players from their contracts, Arteta added: "Hopefully, but the turn-around of the squad, when we had that many things to do and we have already seen the amount of changes and the contractual situations that are very much attached to those players are really difficult to handle.
"If we want to thin the squad to have the capacity to evolve and improve it you have to make those decisions when you have the opportunity.
"Sometimes you want to do it and you don't have (the opportunity), sometimes you have but the player doesn't want to do so.
"We believe it was the right thing to do. But as always only results will tell when you are right or wrong. That ball has to be in the net."
The onus on scoring the goals to keep alive Arsenal's top-four ambitions in the absence of Aubameyang now fall on Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah.
Both men have less than six months remaining on their respective contracts but Arteta has backed them to fill the void – despite scoring just three Premier League goals between them so far this season.
"Auba's trajectory at the club and the importance of his goals is unquestionable," Arteta said, also confirming Lacazette will captain the side for the time being.
"We believe we have other qualities in different ways to try to accomplish the amount of goals that we need in the team. That's what we are going to try to do," he said.