When your team is suffering, lacking in confidence and has sustained a succession of injuries in key defensive areas, the last thing you want is a game against Crystal Palace. They are similar to an irretrievable stone in your shoe, constantly on the verge of upsetting any rhythm or momentum going forwards.
At present, the sides are only one point apart with Crystal Palace above their North London neighbours and a win could see them jump into 5th position, dislodging an average looking Manchester United.
Just to put some perspective on the plight of these teams, Liverpool are 30 and 31 points respectively ahead of them, so in terms of achieving anything other than a top six finish would require Liverpool to lose every remaining game.
Mmm, it makes a grim reading.
Crystal Palace have been a continuous thorn in Arsenal’s side for the last few years and they are extremely capable of getting a result. Zaha might be the superstar in the ranks, but Palace are much more than a one man band. They have a great team unity and work hard for each other to cause regular upsets.
Roy Hodgson has fashioned a team that competes well in the best league in the world and although they’re not going to be a top four club anytime soon, they can push into the top ten regularly and perhaps even have a decent run in one of the domestic cups.
If that sounds like I’m doing them a disservice it isn’t meant to, it’s just that there are now a host of clubs that have similar aspirations and more funds. Palace are in a league within a league.
Arsenal are on dodgy ground with the south London side, because over the years, many teams have frustratingly devised a plan to negate and overcome Arsenal with devastating ease, Crystal Palace being one of them.
They will undoubtedly press and chase the Gunners down. They will defend in numbers and attack the makeshift defenders with pace and enthusiasm. Arsenal may have to soak it up for the opening twenty minutes unless they come out of the traps ready for the fight. They may also have to rely on counter attacks and meet Palace head on with a high line and equal desire.
As the narrow win over Leeds showed, the Gunners can nod off and start slowly, something that Palace will exploit to greater effect than the Championship leaders. Worryingly it appears that Arsenal are in no hurry to strengthen their defence at present, leaving Arteta to make silk out of string.
Yet, despite his obvious skills for extracting better performances from his existing players, the risks of not buying a new centre back are huge. Arteta needs to put together a run to keep in contention at the top and to distance the club from the bottom, starting with Crystal Palace.
I doubt there will be massive surprises as Arteta goes with experience and in the hope that his attack keeps the Palace players busy.
Preferred Side Against Crystal Palace: Leno; Maitland Niles, Sokratis, Luiz, Kolasinac; Torreira, Xhaka; Pepe, Ozil, Aubameyang; Lacazette.
Probable Side Against Crystal Palace: The same.
Score: 2-1 Arsenal win.
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