We visit Selhurst Park today, in an attempt to right the wrongs of the last meeting between the two sides. There’s also the small matter of Arsenal winning just one of their last five league games: a slender 1-0 victory over Newcastle.
Crystal Palace, followed by West Brom, will cap off this calendar year and frankly, I’ll be happy to see the back of it. The Gunners lost 11 league games in 2017, their highest ever tally under Arsene Wenger. There were some debilitating away surrenders along the way too, one of them to the team we are visiting today.
Hardly a bright intro, but I am in no mood for one, given our recent form (is December the new November?) We’ve dropped way too many points this season, and albeit no one is fighting for the title it appears, we are way off the leaders and “boast” atrocious away results. Just the two wins in 9 matches, one of those the last-gasp 1-0 vs Burnley. Not inspiring at all.
At least Palace are no longer managed by Sam Allardyce. Roy Hodgson is not only someone you warm to easily, his football philosophy is much more appealing than Fat Sam’s too. The Eagles are undefeated in their last 8 games, winning 3. I especially enjoyed how they spanked Leicester at King Power’s, when the Foxes looked to be on song.
We will undoubtedly face a much revived team, perfectly capable of punishing us through Zaha, Loftus-Cheek and even Andros Townsend and Christian Benteke. As such, the Gunners will have to show a bit more defensive organisation and discipline than they did against Liverpool.
Team news update
Nacho Monreal joins the ranks of walking wounded. The Spaniard limped off at the Emirates during half-time, with an ankle injury, and will miss the busy festive schedule. That’s on top of the already missing Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud:
“Nacho Monreal I would say hopefully 10 days, Giroud as I said before is four to six weeks, but he is a quick healer so I am hopeful he will be less. Aaron Ramsey should be back at the beginning of January.” – Arsene Wenger
It’s not quite a pile-up of injuries yet, conveniently those are spread at one per line (defense, midfield and attack), so we aren’t too stretched. However all three players are important to us, and you could bet your top dollar Monreal and Ramsey would be starting today if fit, with Giroud coming off the bench. It is what it is though.
I’m pretty sure at some point rotation will come into Arsene’s mind, but probably not today. There were 5 days between the games, literally no other team had this luxury, and we also desperately need to address our poor away record.
Mustafi should by all means replace Monreal in central defence and I wonder whether Koscielny could use a rest after all. He was simply horrible against Liverpool, directly responsible for the third goal and dodgy throughout. At this point I’ve given up hope Wenger will rest his skipper though.
It looks like Maitland-Niles will continue at left-back too. Monreal is not available to slot in, and it looks like Kolasinac won’t be playing an active part anytime soon:
“He is highly suited for a wing-back role, for a more offensive role.
“I think he will play again and I gave him a breather as well. He is working hard and I think he will play in a back four, as well.” – Arsene Wenger
Hardly reassuring for the Bosnian. I think the real reason lies in poor recent performances, which mainly constituted of low passing percentages and shoddy defensive work. But of course I wouldn’t expect Wenger to throw Kolasinac under the bus, he’s not Mourinho.
Will we see a bit more defensive security in that midfield? I think Xhaka is pretty immune to being dropped, and if anything, we may well see Iwobi axed. The young NIgerian had a poor game against Pool. Starting Coquelin or even Elneny in his place is not inconceivable.
Our front three will likely remain the same, maybe more down to the lack of options rather than stellar form from current starters. I wouldn’t naturally tinker with Ozil or Lacazette, however Alexis has been poor for a while now. Not sure he has been poor enough to drop him in favour of Welbeck or Walcott. The latter wouldn’t even be on the bench had Giroud been available.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Koscielny – Mustafi – AMN – Coquelin – Xhaka – Wilshere – Ozil – Alexis – Lacazette
Roy Hodgson’s side will undoubtedly be full of beans, and will provide us with a stern test. Teams less capable, like West Ham and, on current form, Southampton, were able to cause us huge problems. Palace won’t find it too complex to recreate something similar.
Hopefully we have what it takes to pick up some points on the road. I’m positive it will require better defensive organisation and fewer turnovers than on 23rd to achieve that. A measure of ruthlessness in front of goal will come in handy too, although I’m calmer on that front. Lacazette and Alexis are great finishers, while Ozil has been in good form lately.
What bothers me is the length of our bench. Without Giroud and Ramsey we suddenly look a bit short on reliable attacking options. If my squad prediction is correct, Iwobi, Welbeck and Walcott will be the only impact subs, and you don’t really trust any of them to make a difference. Walcott maybe less so, however the Englishman is behind Danny and Alex in the pecking order. It looks like we’ll have to win it with our starting 11.
I sincerely hope they will show up and do just that: get the win. I really, really don’t want to find myself writing about another tedious draw, or even worse, a defeat, tomorrow.
So come on you Gunners.
Back with a review