The Show Must go on- Arsenal vs Crystal Palace Match Preview
Arsenal will be looking to win four Premier League games in a row for the first time since October 2018 as they welcome Crystal Palace to The Emirates Stadium on Thursday night. After a torrid start to the season in which pundits questioned whether they would even survive the drop, The Gunners have strung together a successful Christmas period with wins over Chelsea, Brighton and West Bromwich Albion, as well as squeezing past Newcastle United in the FA Cup third round, albeit with the help of extra-time. Crystal Palace, on the other hand, have won just one of their previous six league games, against bottom of the table Sheffield United, and sit a point and two places behind Arsenal ahead of the meeting between the two sides.
Arsenal fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when it emerged that Gabriel Martinelli’s injury was not as severe as it first appeared. The young Brazilian fell awkwardly in the warm-up against Newcastle United and was removed from the side as a precautionary measure. Whilst the news is undoubtedly positive, this game will come too soon for the youngster, and he is due to return to training “in the next few days”.
However, Mikel Arteta’s side will be boosted by the return of summer signings Thomas Partey and Gabriel. Partey has recovered from the thigh injury which forced him off the pitch in the North London derby last month, whilst Gabriel’s period of isolation (as per the UK Government’s Coronavirus guidelines) has ended. Arsenal fans in particular will be keen to see Partey once again; the midfielder has looked the best player on the pitch in all of the four games he has started since arriving for £45 million on transfer deadline day, and if he is able to get a run in the side he is sure to help the Gunners continue to climb the table.
Opposition Scout Report:
Crystal Palace have been deployed in the 442 formation for the majority of the season, with Christian Benteke partnering Wilfried Zaha at the top of the pitch. Zaha will be well known to Arsenal fans following his transfer sagas with the club, and has started the season strongly with Palace, scoring eight and setting up two in 15 appearances, six more goal contributions than anyone else in Roy Hodgson’s squad. Christian Benteke too, though a far cry from his 2012/2013 form, has begun to link play well for the south-Londoners, bringing the best out of Zaha in the process. Summer signing Eberechi Eze, deployed on the left flank, also poses a danger with his pace and quick feet, though he is yet to find the net with the regularity that many Palace fans would like.
Where the side looks shakiest, however, is in defence. One time Arsenal-target Gary Cahill, now 35 years old, is fit once again and will look to provide some stability to a defence that has conceded 29 goals in 17 games, including shipping seven to Liverpool just prior to Christmas. This translates as the third-worst defence in the division, with only West Bromwich Albion (39) and Leeds (33) possessing leakier back-lines. The return of Tyrick Mitchell in place of Patrick Van Aanholt at left back has helped stem the tide somewhat, yet Arsenal will certainly fancy their ability to get behind Palace’s defence with some regularity.
Arteta’s defensive conundrum:
Arsenal’s side has a relatively settled look to it in recent weeks, with teenage sensation Bukayo Saka operating to the right of Emile Smith Rowe and with either Gabriel Martinelli or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang operating on the left. Whether Thomas Partey is fit enough to start will remain an eleventh hour decision, but Arteta’s real headache is in central defence. Rob Holding, having just bagged a new long-term contract, is nailed on to start, yet whether Gabriel returns immediately following his suspension and isolation is far from certain. Pablo Mari, signed in January 2020, has deputised ably and has formed a good partnership with Holding, conceding just once in Gabriel’s absence. Whilst Gabriel is definitely the “preferred” option, Arteta could be tempted to stick with what has been working so far and trust in the player brought in from Flamengo.
On paper, it would appear that Arsenal have too much for Crystal Palace. The Gunners look a completely different side to that which struggled through the start of the season, not least in part to the youthful energy which characterises their attacks, whilst Palace have struggled for form in recent weeks. Whilst Wilfried Zaha may have a point to prove to the club that snubbed him, he may find himself ploughing a lone furrow.
Arsenal 3-1 Crystal Palace.