I’ll start this preview with an astonishing bit I’ve only just dug up: Crystal Palace have won ONE game in the last 16 league matches. It was a recent home win vs Norwich, the game which ended 1-0. This run of sixteen games included an 11-game winless streak, during which the Eagles have only drawn two matches.
Basically, we are hosting relegation fodder. I’m not getting cocky, God knows we’ve screwed up enough times this season for me to afford the luxury of arrogance. I’m just stating a simple fact. Had Palace not been half-decent prior to this spectacular collapse, they would now be in relegation zone. They are 16th as it is, a respectable 7 points above Norwich.
Let’s shoot to the team news.
Team news update
Our only mid-term injury worries are that of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla:
“Next week they will be back maybe, they are not back in full training yet. They are still on fitness work”.
Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky are nearly ready, meanwhile, having played twice for the U21s. They are set to play a 3rd game on Monday, before (hopefully) making a return for the senior team on Thursday.
Everyone else we have available, though I think we can safely count Mikel Arteta out. I’ll be surprised if our captain plays again this season, if only in our last game to give the Spaniard the send-off he deserves.
Wenger was naturally quizzed on the subject of whether Per Mertesacker and Petr Cech will start and the Frenchman said the following:
“I haven’t decided yet. We are 48 hours away from the game so I will see”.
He also elaborated a bit on why Ospina started last time and not Cech:
“Petr Cech is our No 1 but Ospina is also a fantastic goalkeeper. His numbers are absolutely exceptional in the Premier League. I felt that Petr Cech had only had one week of training and was only just coming back”.
As clear as mud. Does he think he has two equal goalkeepers or was it just insufficient preparation Cech had that forced Arsene to start Ospina? If it’s the latter, why didn’t he say that much after the game? If it’s the former, then why did he bring in Cech in the first place and made him number 1?
Basically I can see Arsene making three changes, tops. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he made none for two reasons:
- Arsene usually gives the players a chance at redemption after bad games
- Barring Cech for Ospina, you could debate the benefits of the other two switches
Those two switches are Mertesacker for Gabriel (obviously) and Ramsey/Campbell for Iwobi. With Mertesacker it’s more or less clear: he offers qualities Gabriel doesn’t, like his leadership and organisational skills, the ability to play out from the back, positional discipline, better bond with Koscielny and, finally, a calming presence.
However I think I’ve raised a few eyebrows by suggesting it is worth considering dropping Iwobi. The reason for this is simple: Alex doesn’t track back to help out his fullback (i.e. Monreal), something which West Ham noticed and used to such devastating effect. Swapping him for someone more defensively switched-on may just improve the defensive side of our game. However a move like this will also rob us of Iwobi’s creative presence, so it’s a double-edged sword. Neither Ramsey nor Campbell are creators like Iwobi is.
This is a riddle Arsene must find an answer to, since Palace, despite their shambolic form, lead the league in crosses per game (26) and will look to utilise this weapon with Connor Wickham and/or Emmanuel Adebayor up front. Especially after witnessing West Ham use crosses to great effect.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Monreal – Coquelin – Elneny – Alexis – Ozil – Iwobi – Welbeck
We are quite lucky as Spurs play away at Stoke on Monday, which will allow us to sneak three points behind them in case of our win, but both Manchester clubs have already played their games and it’s not looking good for us.
United have beaten Villa to reduce the gap on us to three points, while a win for City means Pellegrini’s side moves into third. I’m not even counting in whatever Leicester might or might not do, because we are not catching up with them anyway.
We have to win this game against Palace. And then the next against West Brom. And the next. And the next. If we want to have a chance of at least a second-place finish.
Do I have the confidence we will? Hell no. I’ve seen Arsenal slip up this season more times than I care to remember, most of these slip-ups came at a crucial time. At a time when we couldn’t afford to slip up.
But now that the title is unobtainable for us, not mathematically but realistically, we might just start playing football. Want a bet we’ll have 6 exemplary games and fall agonisingly short of the 1st place? Wonder what odds Paddy will give.
Anyway, come on you Gunners. Try not to screw up yet again.