The weekend’s results weren’t kind to us with every team around, above and below us managing to pick up 3 points, meaning tonight’s clash with Palace is a must win at all costs fixture. You could argue all our remaining games are must wins, and I agree, but it’s all the more important after our rivals have laid down the markers. The pressure is well and truly on tonight & I hope we’re up to the task.
We face a Crystal Palace team capable of upsetting anyone should they execute their game plan to perfection as they did at Stamford Bridge a week ago. Wenger matches up against Allardyce once more and although their relationship towards each other has softened over recent years there will be no love loss between the two as against no other club has Allardyce lost more points during his multiple tenures.
Last time out we managed to breathe a sigh of relief as the green shoots of recovery seem to take hold during a comfortable 3-0 win at home to West Ham. The first half was quite tepid as it was obvious we didn’t want to over-extend ourselves in looking for that first goal. When it came through Ozil in the second half a notable sigh was let out around the stadium and we went on to easily wrap up the 3 points and even played some gorgeous football at times. The signs are there that we can get back into a run of good form and I’d expect us to take the game to Palace tonight.
Wenger has a wealth of midfield options available to him again as Ramsey & Oxlade-Chamberlain have returned to full fitness after cameo performances against West Ham. The Ox impressed with his direct running when he came and indeed set up the third goal for Giroud late on. However I’d expect, and hope that Wenger sticks with the same XI that started against West Ham. Koscielny continues to be sidelined with an achilles problem so Gabriel will keep his place and has been very solid over the last 2 games. Martinez will continue in goal in the absence of Dave & Cech and I expect he’ll be busy and have a proper chance to prove his quality tonight.
I sincerely hope that Wenger retains the Xhaka/Elneny axis in the central of the pitch, both impressed on Wednesday night and that’s no doubt in part to the fact that they compliment each other far better than any combination that includes Coquelin. Xhaka sitting as the pivot is a main point of creation and penetration through the lines whilst Elneny busies himself by providing himself as passing option, filling defensive spaces in transition whilst generally being a far more disciplined and positionally aware midfielder. He deserves to keep his place and I won’t even contemplate a return for Le Coq.
The one change we might see is in our forward line; Welbeck looked slightly off the pace Wednesday night and should have notched a couple of goals to his name. Giroud scored yet again as a substitute for us & decided, yet again not to celebrate in a ‘I should be bloody starting matches’ sort of way. He scored that wonderful scorpion kick in the reverse fixture and I expect him to come into the side over Welbeck. Palace will sit deep and look to counter to space in behind for Welbeck will be limited early on, it strikes me that it’s that type of game for Giroud to start.
Crystal Palace on the other hand come into this fixture on the back of a 3-1 defeat at Southampton; both teams looked nailed on to settle for a point however some poor defending late on allowed the Saints to bag two late goals and all 3 points. It’s hard to know what Palace side will show up tonight, we generally have a good record when we play them but the victory over Chelsea shows we mustn’t underestimate them.
The Eagles have a fairly lengthy injury list and from the midweek matches lose Cabaye to a calf strain but may be able to call upon James McCarthur who’s returning from a back injury. This means Palace will likely be largely unchanged from the loss at Southampton and will no doubt look to utilise Benteke & Zaha as much as possible. At least it’s fairly obvious what their game plan is going to be. We successfully nullified Andy Carroll with strong performances from both centre backs and we’ll need a similar performance this evening.
Ones to Watch
Wilfred Zaha – the Ivorian has impressed this season and has been given more of a free role when Palace attack this season, often popping up on either side of the pitch or alongside Benteke and we know his trickery and pace could cause us all sorts of problems. Cutting off the supply lines to both him & Benteke will be key.
Mesut Özil – the man looks more invigorated midweek and bagged another goal & assist to his tally. Hopefully his confidence will only improve and although he’ll no doubt be kicked throughout the game I’d expect him to regularly find space against a deep Palace backline. His crosses from the pockets of space he finds around the corners of the penalty box may just be the key to unlock the Palace defence.
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Cech (calf), Koscielny (achilles), Ospina (back), Cazorla (achilles)
Palace: Van Aanholt (ankle), Cabaye (calf), J Benteke (knee), Dann (knee), Wickham (knee), Souaré (broken leg)
Goals Scored (avg per season)
Goals Allowed (avg per season)
Referee: Michael Oliver (25M, 84Y, 2R)
Assistants: G Beswick, J Collin
Fourth official: N Swarbrick
UK: Sky Sports 20.00 GMT
US: NBC Sports Newtwork 3:00 PM GMT
0-2 – I think we’ll dominate possesion and it will tell in the end. If we defend like we did against the Hammers I’m confident we can find a way through at the other end. Walcott & Giroud to score.