Well wouldn’t you know it, one minute you’re an Arsenal fan thinking “season over, we won’t win the league now”, then the next minute Moneychester City have dispatched Chelski, Liverpool and City have a genuine chance of European league glory and suddenly the fourth place trophy doesn’t even look like it might secure European football! So after my blasé attitude towards the remainder of the season, we suddenly look like we will be looking over our shoulders in terms of Champions League football.
In some respect, I suppose the winning of City at Chelski therefore probably doesn’t make any difference, because it’s them that we should be worried about dropping out of the top four. If they lost their remaining games and finished fifth, that’s when fourth place doesn’t mean a jot, so them winning at Chelski – which everybody except arsenal seems to be able to do these days – was probably not the worst thing in the world.
We still want third though. The last thing we need is another excuse from Arsene as to why we haven’t signed any players until August 31st, because we’ve been waiting to secure our Champions League status. No, what we need is wins between now and the end of the season, which needs to start today with Crystal Palace.
There’s even a pantomime villain who can be thrown in today. Step forward Emmanuel Adebayor, who you just know will score against us today if he plays, so we need to at least be knocking in two in reply. Alan “it’s all about me” Pardew reckons his players need to perform for a place in the semi final in a week’s time and whilst they have looked a little bit like they can’t be arsed at times over the last six weeks or so, I still expect them to give us a game. Especially if he rotates for players who don’t always get game, because they will want to try to force their way in to the managers thinking.
Palace like to play with pacey wingers and a target man up top, so I’m expecting them to try and play with a compact unit of defenders and deep-lying midfielders like Cabaye and Jedinak, with the Frenchman looking for longer balls in to the channels to exploit the space left by our full backs inevitably driving forward. It’s most likely to be Bolasie and Shako on the flanks, but I think Zaha has a little bit more pace than Sahko (not that I’m a Palae expert, he just looks it on the few occasions I’ve seen Palace) and so I think Pardew will look to those fast wide men to get in behind Nacho and Hector to cause us problems.
So for us it is about control of the ball, but when we lose possession, it’s about shape and most likely about making sure that there is enough cover so we don’t get exposed on the counter. Too many times this season we’ve been done by a team scoring with their first shot of the game. This ain’t Championship Manager folks, but sometimes it feels like the scabby rules of the game engine screwing you over no matter what you do, seem to apply in real life with this Arsenal team.
I think we need to keep t he side the same as the West Ham game, minus Ospina for Cech. there’s been too much made of Ospina’s inclusion in the team since that game, because he was not at fault for any of the goals, but Cech will save chances that Ospina won’t. So if we see a game in which Palace get one or two chances in the game, we’re more likely to be breathing a sign of relief because Cech has made a worldie of a save, than if the Colombian was in goal. That’s the difference for me and that’s why he starts between now and the rest of the season.
Defensively our ‘keeper will need better protection though. If Adebayor plays he’ll try to ruffle a few feathers, but unlike Carroll, he has better movement. If Gabriel plays then I’d expect him to be able to cope with the movement better, but it’s in the air that we’ll need more responsibility taken, which I hope means Koscielny has an aye on the Togolese throughout the 90 minutes.
Of course it could be that we see Big Per up against it, but with that pace that Palace have on the flanks, I’m just not sure. Think about Costa doing the BFG in the game at The Emirates. If we have our fullbacks in an advanced position and you’ve got Bolasie, Zaha or Sahko running at our German, most of us watching the game will be looking away and waiting to hear the worst. So I suspect Gabriel keeps his place today.
In front of them you can’t argue with the Coquelin/Elneny axis, with Ozil further in front of that two, and the same mobile forward line as we had against West Ham. In some respects, you can say we’ve had a reverse of two months ago: the defence are now not doing their job, where as the forward line are doing theirs by banging in the goals. If that continues today you’d expect us to win, because I’m not expecting Crystal Palace to have 30 shots on goaland 70% of the ball.
This game has importance for us saving our spot in third, but not really anything else, because by the time we kick off I fully expect Leicester to be just a point away from the maximum target that Arsenal can achieve this season. As much as I’d like to see West Ham to produce a display similarly to when they played us, I can’t see it, because Leicester quite simply haven’t been as forgiving as we have defensively. So for us, today’s game is about picking up points to secure third, rather than looking for some kind of miracle.
Come on you reds!