It’s a face-off with Crystal Palace for Arsenal on New Year’s day and a chance for the Gunners to close in on City and Liverpool, seeing as they play one another. What’s more, Tottenham host Chelsea on January 4th, providing us with a further opportunity to make up the lost ground.
Fat Sam will be craving to stamp his imprint on the squad and, as the Eagles drew his first game in charge, I expect nothing less than sheer determination to get at least a point at the Emirates. I’m pretty sure Allardyce has seen West Brom tapes and will try to set Palace up so that can frustrate us to at least bag a point. Our goal is hence very simple: find a way to bypass the low block effectively.
I’ve recently omitted this section, but will include it now, purely in case Allardyce decides to be clever and boast about his ‘record’ against Arsene Wenger.
Allardyce hasn’t won a single league game against Arsene in the last 12, losing 9. Indeed he has only 5 wins in 31 matches against Wenger’s Arsenal. Pretty dismal, so he should be silent on this front if he’s a smart man. Something which I doubt, by the way.
Palace’s overall record against the Gunners also leaves a lot (for them) to be desired. They have won just one league game in 12 attempts (an improvement on Fat Sam still!). The Eagles have also lost a joint-high number of league games in 2016 in the top five leagues (22 along with Palermo). Finally, the last clean sheet they kept came on December 26th 2015 (19 league games), meaning they will go the entire of 2016 without one.
That being said, I still remember last year’s games against them. A hotly-contested 2-1 win away and a frustrating 1-1 at the Emirates, so I don’t expect this to be a cakewalk.
Team news update
We’ll go into this one without Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs, on top of the already-absent Per Mertesacker and Santi Cazorla. Theo is still “little bit short”, while Gibbs suffered a knee inflammation in that collision with Yacob:
“I don’t think that Kieran will be available. He had a knee problem, a kick. He bumped into the knee of his opponent and he has an inflammation. I think it’s a question of days.
“Will he be available for Bournemouth or not? He looks short, but after, for Preston, he should be available.”
On the bright side, Mustafi will definitely be back:
“Shkodran is back in normal training and he will be back in the squad.”
And maybe even Welbeck!
“He’s fit, he’s sharp. Will I involve him in the short-term or not, or will I play him first in a game with the under-23s? I have not decided yet, but in training he looks quite good.”
Ox is another uncertainty, with Arsene saying the Englishman will resume training on Saturday. Whether it will be enough I don’t know, but with Welbeck back we definitely have enough squad depth to cope without Ox and Walcott for a game or two.
We haven’t arrived at the mouthwatering point of “almost everyone available” quite yet, however it’s inching closer. Hopefully we’ll arrive at it around the first week of January, maybe the cup game.
Even now we have a lot of options, though. I’m expecting a standard pre-Everton back five of Cech, Hector, Mustafi, Kos and Monreal. The midfield actually look thinnest, with only four central midfielders for Arsene to juggle. And Elneny is going away to AFCON after the Palace game, so the situation will border on critical in his absence.
However I expect to see Ramsey alongside Xhaka for a little extra danger in the final ⅓. Chances are Palace will try to replicate West Brom’s approach, one which isn’t particularly comfortable for Francis Coquelin. But he may well regain his place at Bournemouth away. Or maybe there’ll be no change at all, what do I know.
The fron three is the most interesting (and competitive) place. While Welbeck definitely won’t start even if included in the matchday squad, all of Alexis, Giroud, Iwobi and Lucas can stake a claim with varying degrees of confidence in a positive of outcome. I’d probably go with a trio of Alexis, Giroud and Lucas. This attacking force has a bit of everything: pace, trickery, craft, power, aerial ability: you name it.
Giroud has earned a second start in my opinion, plus it’s a game he looks better equipped for than Alexis. The Chilean will be an additional creative outlet, as well as cutting infield and making runs in-behind, while Lucas will be a more direct threat, in Walcott’s mould. However there’s a nagging doubt Arsene will hand Lucas a start.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mustafi – Koscielny – Monreal – Xhaka – Ramsey – Alexis – Ozil – Iwobi – Giroud
It’s a game we simply have to win. An encounter against a side flirting with relegation, a home game and a chance to close in on on our rivals. I think West Brom have more-or-less equipped us for the task ahead, because I don’t see Palace trying anything radically different.
We also have to string a couple of wins together after that dismal December week to restore some confidence and soothe the fans’ nerves. Which I think we can do, even with some players out.
So come on you Gunners.
Back here with a review.
A happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year to you all!