Match Preview: Arsenal v Crystal Palace; Looking for Consistency
When Arsenal v Crystal Palace kicks off, the Gunners will be looking to reenergize their title chase. Having slid ever so gently away from table leaders, Chelsea, we’ll need a win on Sunday to ensure we don’t fall further adrift and kill the title chase altogether on the first day of the New Year.
Our win against West Brom was another lack luster affair as we struggled to break down a determined side. Tony Pulis’ charges packed the midfield and took away the passing channels. Arsenal in their “brilliance” did nothing to move them side to side and unbalance them. Only towards the end of the match we remembered we had Olivier Giroud on the pitch and crossed a ball into the box that he was able to latch onto and score.
What Crystal Palace will offer remains to be seen. They are transitioning from the dandy gent, Alan Pardew to China’s most wanted manager, Sam Allardyce. Pardew tried to get Palace to play, Allardyce will try and get them to survive.
That means less open football and more of packing it in, leaving Benteke up top and trying to hit Arsenal on the counter. The question is, will fat Sam have had enough time to drill that into his charges.
Fact is under Pardew Palace underperformed. There is a level of talent there that should’ve done better than they did. But every match they took to the pitch it looked – meh.
Against West Brom we started to see some of the impetus of play returning that didn’t seem there in the losses to Everton and City. We were moving the ball better but it still wasn’t as crisp as it needs to be.
Part of it was the inclusion of Olivier Giroud. I’ve always been a Giroud fan but it’s hard to not see that he looks like a duck out of water trying to play the way the team wants to play now.
He is not quick and cannot play a fluid, mobile game. He is a smash and grab player. Sit him up top fighting against the center backs, looking to win the ball, hold it up, dish it out or shoot. We can’t play a high press with him. He simply doesn’t have the close down speed or the ability to sustain that type of play and against West Brom that showed in overall play.
I have been swayed to the argument that if you have Alexis Sanchez on the field he needs to play as a striker. Support him with speed and movement on the outside and even against teams that sit back, they should be able to pull them apart through speed of play and quick ball movement.
Arsenal need to find a way to take advantage of the upheaval right now at Palace. The reverse fixture in the second half of the season may be harder as Sam gets his charges organized.
Given the time between last week’s match and this, I don’t suspect there will be drastic changes in the squad. There might be some adjustments but overall I suspect more rotation to occur on the 3rd.
It really is tightening up around us. I can’t remember us “falling” out of the top four after the new year and then getting back in. My worry is any further slips without the rest of the teams around us slipping (which at this moment looks unlikely) and we’ll be faced with a new dynamic we haven’t faced in a while.
Arsene Wenger keeps talking about moving forward and that seems debatable at this moment. This squad is better than it has shown recently. If, according to the boss the players do have the attitude it has to be shown on a consistent basis. That means following up our last gasp win with a win that looks a little more comfortable.
We looked shorn of confidence following the losses but a win has a restorative effect. Let’s hope it has enough to go ahead and get another win (and another and another.)
Players to Watch:
Arsenal. Mesut Özil. He’s suffered without Santi Cazorla in the side, but with Xhaka offering some of the passing skills from deep, the German international needs to refind his form from earlier in the season and help Arsenal dictate play.
Palace. Wilfried Zaha. He was once considered one of the more promising young players in the league but that was lost as he moved to United. Given faith by Pardew he has come on again, he can be a threat out wide if Arsenal don’t pay him any mind.
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Debuchy (hamstring), Gibbs (knee), Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring), Walcott (calf), Cazorla (achilles)
Palace: Mandanda (knee), J Benteke (knee), Wickham (knee), Souaré (leg) Delaney (suspended 1 of 1)
Goals Scored Per Game:
Goal Conceded Per Game:
The Manager’s Perspective (Courtesy Arsenal.com)
“Coming after two bad results, we didn’t panic, we kept going,” Arsène Wenger said. “We had a relentless attitude and in the end we managed to win it.
“We’ve done that many times this season, so that means the resolve is there and the stubbornness too. We said we want to have style and steel, and I think we maybe showed more steel than style in this game, but it will be important for our season.
“Of course, we were shocked from the week before and it is always a big test – if you look around you, some teams do not win for five or six games. We responded well to four shocking days, and we managed to win the game.
“That was a very important game for us, but in the end we got there with the needed mental ingredients, maybe more than the football ingredients.”
It was certainly a relief to end what has generally been a positive year in good spirits. Of the 53 games we have played over the past 12 months, we have won 28 and scored 106 goals in the process – although Wenger feels there is room for improvement in 2017.
“We were consistent overall and I feel we have moved forward,” he said. “We were second in the league last season, but we want more.
“We want to show we can go again to the next level. Overall 2016 was an improvement year [in terms of] the quality of our results, but still not where we want it to be. We are conscious of that and we want to put in the effort to get to the level where we really want to be.
“[The players need] to keep the attitude they have now; the togetherness, the focus and get the hunger to always have that daily attitude to improve.
“We want to go higher up, we want to go to a different level and that demands absolutely that everybody contributes even more.
“We live in a world of small margins now, in every single game the margin has become smaller for everybody, so to be as close as possible to your best has become absolutely vital for that. You need players to be absolutely 100 per cent focused on every game.”
Referee: Andre Marriner (10M, 39Y, 0R)
Assistants: S Beck, S Ledger
Fourth official: S Attwell
UK: Sky Sports 1 16.00 BST
US: NBC Sports Network 11:00AM EST
Arsenal 2 – 1 Crystal Palace
Match Facts (Courtesy FourFourtTwo.com via Opta)
- Arsenal have won eight of their last 11 Premier League games against Crystal Palace, drawing the other three.
- Crystal Palace’s only Premier League win against Arsenal came in October 1994 at Highbury, as John Salako scored twice in a 2-1 victory.
- This will be the 200th Premier League game contested at the Emirates – Arsenal have won 129, drawn 47 and lost 23 of the 199 currently played there.
- The only player to have scored more Premier League goals at the Emirates Stadium than both Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott (35 each) is Robin van Persie (46 overall, 45 for Arsenal).
- Crystal Palace have won just one of their last seven league games away from home on New Year’s Day, beating Portsmouth in 1996 (D1 L5).
- By contrast, Arsenal haven’t lost a home league game on New Year’s Day since 1985 against Tottenham (W6 D2).
- Olivier Giroud has three Premier League goals against the Eagles, but all of those have been scored at Selhurst Park.
- Giroud is averaging a goal every 65 minutes in the Premier League this season (four goals in 259 minutes) and has scored five goals in his last three Premier League starts.
- Sam Allardyce has never won an away Premier League game at Arsenal, drawing three and losing nine of 12 games he has lost each of his last seven, all played at the Emirates.
- Indeed, Allardyce’s sides at Emirates have conceded 26 goals the most by an opposing manager there in the Premier League.
- Only Chelsea (24) and Spurs (23) have earned more home Premier League points than Arsenal (20 – level with Liverpool) this season.