Just as I expected when I wrote my blog on Saturday morning, pretty much everybody above and below us in the Premier League won over the weekend, which means only victory tonight against Palace will see us tread water. It’s a difficult situation to be in that’s for sure.
The opponents will also make it difficult tonight too. I’m in no doubt about that. Fat Sam will set his team up to be difficult to break down and to use the pace of Zaha and the aerial ability of Benteke to cause he problems. So I’m not expecting a Palace side who will roll over and have their bellies tickled. Sadly. It would have been great to have played Crystal Palace about six weeks ago, when there was still plenty of time in the season and it looked as though Allardyce hadn’t been able to form them in to a more cohesive unit, but with the season drawing to its conclusion they appear to have clicked in to gear, with their away victory against Chelski as a case in point.
At least they don’t have Cabaye though. He’s the architect of so much of their midfield play and without him in the side I expect we’ll see more industry from the middle of the park and less craft. Palace will try to work the ball from back to front as quickly as possible which is why I fear that we might be vulnerable to the counter. As with most of these teams that we play, I expect us to have most of the ball, but what I hope not to see is the same sterile use of it when we’re in lulls of play during the middle parts of the game, which is what we saw with West Brom.
In that game we tended to lurch from side to side and backwards and forwards in the middle of the pitch without doing anything, so more than anything today I’d like to see our passing quicker, as well as more incisive in the final third. That’s where players like Xhaka, Özil and Ox (if he plays) can be so good and I hope that we see all three tonight. If Palace do play us on the counter it means we’ll need more accurate passes and direct runners in the team, so Ox remains a favourite for me from that perspective.
The front three need to be better too. Alexis has been chipping in with goals and so has Walcott, but if Welbeck gets chosen again ahead of Giroud I’d like to see more movement from him if I’m honest. That’s what he’s always brought to Arsenal’s forward line, yet he still looks rusty and I haven’t seen as much of it from him, so if he starts then I’d like him to run his guts out for 70 odd minutes. I’d still prefer Giroud to start though. He’s looked in a bit of form when he’s played and when Giroud is in one of his purple patches he ends to go on runs when he scores. That’s why I think we need to take advantage by playing him tonight. Give him the chance to be a handful for Delaney and whoever he partners in the middle of defence. They’re a little short with Dann and Tomkins out and that’s where you’d hope we can get a little joy against a makeshift back line, but we have to be quick to get at them from the first minute this evening.
I don’t know why, but I feel like players who are better with the ball at their feet would be a better option this evening, so personally I would even consider Iwobi instead of Walcott. But Theo is top of the pecking order so he’ll start regardless of what type of player might be a better option.
Where we really need to be better is in defence. Martinez wasn’t tested in goal against West Ham but he will be tonight, I’m sure, so Gabriel and Mustafi will need to continue the good form of midweek. So too will Monreal against Zaha. He’ll run and run and run at Nacho and so I hope we’ve go enough support and are doubling up against the Ivory Coast international. He likes a dive too and Nacho has been lucky to stick a leg out every once in a while, so I just hope we give Nacho enough support so that he doesn’t feel forced in to doing something rash.
If we want to get in to those Champions League spots then we need a run of about five or six games of winning football matches. We have Palace and Middlesbrough who are both seen as more ‘winnable’ (I know I know, famous last words and all that!) so we need to pick up points now because even a draw tonight will see us lose yet more ground that personally, I can’t see us making up.
Right, that’s it from me, so cross your fingers and let’s hope the players put in a performance this evening.