Crystal Palace have proved to be a recurring problem for Arsenal in recent years and they present a sizeable hurdle to Mikel Arteta on his way to a top-six position. Without sounding too condescending, Palace is the type of mid-table side that always manages to grab vital points from the Gunners and it has done so very successfully over many seasons, often derailing any momentum in the process. Arteta will be extremely mindful of that fact.
Palace are the Premier League party poopers, the side that isn’t expected to achieve much in a season but they have a nasty habit of regularly doing a number on bigger clubs and springing the odd unwelcome surprise. In terms of Crystal Palace, they will be strong and organised, looking to take the game to Arsenal and get behind the defence via the flanks and they will certainly be looking to Wilfred Zaha to pick the lock.
Arsenal need to field their best available side and that will include Saka, Tierney, and Smith Rowe, a trio that has given Arsenal purpose and points in recent games. When Saka and Smith Rowe were absent in the Arsenal vs Newcastle game, it was evident that the Gunners looked predictable and flat at times. In fact, only Tierney looked to be a creative force with his constant thrusts down the left channel. In this contest, Arteta knows that he needs to lean on his youngsters and that they hold the keys.
Thomas Partey could play against Crystal Palace after recovering from recent injuries to pull the strings in the middle and to bolster the Arsenal defence. He may just play 60 minutes or so but hopefully, he’s ready to go, in what could be an extremely difficult and demanding game.
Arsenal will need to be fairly patient and they can expect a Crystal Palace side that will bring the game to them, but the good news is that they are conceding and have racked up ten more than Arsenal. Yet, Palace are a side that can pull results out of the bag when you least expect it and against so-called better opposition.
Let’s not take anything for granted here, concentration is key to the Arsenal vs Crystal Palace contest, and the backline formation and defensive midfield combination may provide the foundation for another win, but it’s up the top where Arsenal have the edge. Lacazette is in good form, Aubameyang is back amongst the goals and with the likes of Saka and Tierney providing the crosses, Arsenal should get the points.
No room for Willian, no surprise there, his form has been nothing short of awful and if his Arsenal journey is to continue, he needs to work out why his game has disintegrated. Pepe could go out on the left if Aubameyang is central, but the captain will likely occupy that role himself with Saka on the right and Lacazette through the middle.
The big dilemma is in midfield and defence with more bodies than spaces, does Xhaka line up with Partey? Well, that seems to be the obvious pairing with the addition of Smith Rowe in a slightly advanced role ahead of them. This would allow a flow from back to front with Smith Rowe picking the angles and able to provide the service and Partey and Xhaka providing additional support.
So, that leaves the defence, does Holding partner Gabriel, Mari, or Luiz? Usually, at this point of the season, we are having to put the tea lady in football boots because of the volume of missing and injured defenders, now we are spoilt for choice. I’d personally go with Luiz and Mari which has a good balance and feel to it, but I suspect that Holding will partner the Spaniard, having signed his contract extension until 2024 and that Bellerin or Tierney will complete the back four.
If Arsenal are to pick up the three points, it would appear that the main responsibility falls to its young heroes, Saka, Smith Rowe, and Tierney, who have pulled this side up by its bootstraps. Arsenal, once a side reluctant to expose its youngsters to the cut and thrust of the Premier League are now becoming heavily dependent on three of them.
Preferred Side: Leno; Bellerin, Luiz, Mari, Tierney; Partey, Smith Rowe, Xhaka; Saka, Lacazette, and Aubameyang.
Predicted Score: 2-0