MATCH PREVIEW: Palace v Arsenal: Sanchez the Defibrillator to Arsenal’s Season Start?
After last week’s disappointing performance, Arsenal head to Selhurst Park in a bid to jump start their season.
One outlet has already called this a must-win game for Arsenal and in some respect it’s hard to argue with that. If last week’s response by the fans was bad what would another poor game result in? The fact remains if Arsenal are going to realize the expectations of this season, a win against an improved Crystal Palace is necessary.
It won’t be easy. Alan Pardew (nee’ – Pardieu of Newcastle) has reinvigorated the hosts and their sites are firmly planted on finishing within the top 10 of the league. The South London upstarts look to present any visitor to their ground a rough time and on the back of their terrific run of form to close the season, it is expected that this shouldn’t be a match we take lightly (players moreso than fans.)
Certainly Arsenal have the talent to be more than enough for Palace. However, that much could’ve been said last week versus West Ham. The question is as we raised earlier this week, do we have the ability to work through the bigger expectations? That remains to be seen.
Palace offer a better level opposition than West Ham and that should create some worries for Arsenal. Last season they liked to stay compact and hit teams on the counter. With Bolasie and Zaha as their outside wing players they have the ability to really hurt teams with speed.
Their only deficiencies may be their lack of a true scoring threat up front with last season’s scoring leader only netting seven goals all season. Additionally, their overall midfield strength was a concern but some of that may be alleviated with the signing of Yohan Cabaye (nee’ – Kebob of Newcastle.)
Alan Pardew has given the Selhurst faithful something to be hopeful for and taking Arsenal’s scalp today. It won’t be easy for them. In their last 5 matches Arsenal are yet to lose going 5-0 with both of last season’s ties being settled by a scoreline of 2-1.
For Arsenal thought to continue that trend they have to really deliver. They can’t let the weight of expectation draw them down into another poor performance. Some of that pressure should be alleviated by the return of Alexis Sanchez to the lineup today. That shift should force Wenger to think about his lineup.
Does he move back to the formation from last season that forced Ramsey out wide and Cazorla alongside Coquelin or does he make a dramatic change and pull one of Ramsey or Cazorla and put Oxlade-Chamberlain in the RW spot? I’m no betting man but Wenger is a creature of habit and the formation with Ramsey out wide worked for the most part.
It may have been why Ramsey didn’t have as successful a season as 13-14 when he was playing a true box to box role but he added support to the RW last season still managed to be successful for the most part in a role that he openly has said he doesn’t prefer but will play if the boss wants him there.
My own preference is to see Wenger be brave and pull one of the aforementioned midfielders for Oxlade-Chamberlain and give this team real width in the attack. Forcing Pardew’s back line to move from touchline to touchline and spreading them opens up gaps for our midfielders talents to shine. When we play with Ramsey out wide all we’ve done is manage to force play into the middle making it easier to defend against us by keeping the middle of the field compact. If Arsenal are going to really meet their expectations Wenger has to start playing players in their proper positions.
Understanding that we do not see the team every day and aren’t privy to what Wenger is thinking when it comes to his set up, the fact remains, play the players in their preferred position and they should by all accounts prosper.
In his excellent review of the Ramsey/Cazorla dilemma, Michael Keshani of Arseblog clearly laid out Ramsey’s strength playing alongside the DM and making runs in the middle. In 13-14 this was why he was successful. Additionally, it brought out the best in both Özil and Giroud because his movement fed their movement both on and off the ball.
Still Cazorla’s two-footed nature and his absolute amazing ability to keep possession even under pressure makes taking him off the field a hard decision. But, this is why they pay Wenger to do what they do.
Either way, Arsenal wouldn’t miss much. I don’t think they’d be too bad with Ramsey playing in the RW spot against Palace. Overall, as improved as Palace are, Arsenal are a stronger team – even on the bench. The question remains – do they believe it and can they deliver on it? Hopefully we’ll get a positive answer to that question this weekend.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal: Alexis Sanchez. He was our talisman last season when nearly 1/3 of the team was out with injury. His engine & desire alone makes him a player all teams have to take into account.
Palace: Yohan. Cabaye. He forced his way out of Newcastle to PSG. It didn’t work and you have to wonder why other bigger teams didn’t come in for him. Still he is a talent and help shore up Palace’s midfield problems.
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Welbeck (knee), Wilshere (ankle), Rosicky (knee)
Palace: Chamakh (hamstring), Speroni (hand), Appiah (knee), Campbell (hamstring)
Referee: Lee Mason (1M, 6Y, 0R)
Assistant Refereees: S Ledger, E Smart
Fourth Official: R Madley
UK: Sky Sports 1: 13.30 GMT
US: NBC Sports Network: 8:30AM EST
Palace 1 – 2 Arsenal
Match Facts (Courtesy Opta via FourFourTwo.com):
- Crystal Palace have been beaten in each of their last five Premier League encounters with the Gunners.
- Arsenal’s victories last season in this fixture both came by a 2-1 scoreline, with a goal in the 45th minute both times.
- Alan Pardew has won 11/19 Premier League matches in charge of Crystal Palace so far – no Eagles’ manager has won more in a single spell at the club in the Premier League.
- No player has more Premier League assists in 2015 than Santi Cazorla (8).
- Mesut Ozil has averaged 3.5 chances created per game in the Premier League in 2015; a higher ratio than any other player.
- Yannick Bolasie has hit the woodwork (5) on more occasions than he’s scored (4) in the Premier League since the start of 2014-15.
- Wilfried Zaha embarked on more dribbles than any other player on MD1 of the 2015-16 Premier League season (10).
- Bakary Sako beat his opponent with more dribbles than any other player in the Championship last season (116).
- Arsenal have won 16/18 points in their last six Premier League away games (W5 D1).
- The Gunners won 20 points from 10 Premier League London derbies last season (W6 D2 L2), while Palace won 11 points (W3 D2 L5).