It’s Crystal Palace at home today and it is the type of game that four or five years ago I’d be pretty confident about us getting a win. But last season and this has pretty much dented any of that “we’re The Arsenal, we win this game today” mindset that I had developed over a number of decades of watching our beloved team.
Palace rock up at The Emirates tonight having not lost against us for three years. Three years almost to the day in fact, as it was January 2018 that goal from Monreal, Iwobi, Kosicielny and Lacazette secured us the points against the Eagles. Palace are a team that have an organised manager who knows how to line up against us and I am under no illusions that tonight will be a slog for The Arsenal I think. They’ll set up in the now standard ‘low block’ and look at the rapid counter-attacking threat that Zaha and Eze with the physical presence of Benteke to cause problems in the middle of the park for our centre halves. Benteke is hardly the prolific goalscorer, but he hadn’t scored in about five hundred games until he nodded one in at the Emirates in their 2-1 win a couple of seasons ago, so let’s not make any assumptions that he won’t get something tonight, even if he has only got three goals all season and has gone the last three games without one. Arsenal do like to give hope where there is none, after all.
But whilst we know what Palace will do by looking to spring counters with Zaha and Eze, we also know that we are at least in a bit of form to give us the hope that we can continue our momentum today. We simply have to if this season is going be anything other than a complete and utter abject failure. We have tough games coming up and matches in which we we inevitably drop points, so two home games in a row against Crystal Palace and Newcastle simply must end up with six points. Anything less would be failure.
Which shows you just how tight the margins are and just how difficult getting out of the current position and moving up the league is going to be. Arsenal will therefore need to show some impetus early on because if I was Roy Hodgson I would take some comfort in the fact that Arsenal have found it so difficult to break teams down at home and even against Newcastle at the weekend really struggled. The good thing about last weekend’s game was that it needed to be decided by hook or by crook. That will not be the case today and if it is 0-0 at halftime then Roy will be more than happy with his evening’s work I suspect.
The team is probably quite predictable in terms of most of the positions I think. Leno in goal, a back four of Bellerin, Holding, Pablo Mari and Tierney will make up the defensive five. Arteta mentioned that a team that hasn’t conceded in their last three games probably doesn’t get changed toomuch and I understand it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about Rob Holding and Pablo Mari being found out for pace and in a foot race with Eze or Zaha this evening. Both have done well enough but neither have come across players with that ability in this clean sheet run we’ve been on. So I’m not expecting us to get another clean sheet if I’m honest.
That means we need our sharp end of the pitch to be…well…sharper. We got that in the West Brom game and that’s what I’m hoping for tonight. Move the ball quicker, move it with purpose and let’s see if we can shift the Palace defence around enough to create pockets of space to get chances. To do that we’ll need players like Saka and Smith-Rowe to continue their good form and I certainly expect both to start along with Lacazette through the middle – reward for his fine form of late – and then Aubameyang on the left with Martinelli out injured until Monday’s game at Newcastle.
The emphasis has to be on that quick, one-touch, football that can pull teams apart. Then the onus needs to be on the likes to Auba and Laca to continue their scoring form. Both have bagged goals in recent games and whilst Aubameyang has had a bit of a barren spell in recent months, he scored on Saturday and his movement in the last couple of games has shown signs of a return to the player we all know and love.
The midfield will also be an interesting discussion point because in Thomas Partey returning we have a question over whether or not to start him that needs to be answered. The initial reaction from me as well as you I’d imagine, is that he should absolutely be dropping in to the midfield from the start. But having aggravated the thigh injury in the return match against Tottenham last year I think there’s nothing wrong with a cautious approach. Whether that means that we start Xhaka and one of Ceballos/Elneny remains to be seen. I’d rather have Ceballos start and then give Partey 30 minutes if we’re not going to start the Ghanaian though. I’m just about done with Elneny’s passive, backwards, football. It is time we started to look forward when we have possession and that means not having the Egyptian in the team.
As I have already said this game is going to be a tough one. Palace will be a tough nut to crack – as all Premier League Teams are – and they will look to sucker punch us like Leicester did earlier in the season. My hope is for a first half goal though. They have been such a rarity for Arsenal this season that if we got one I think it might open the game up a bit more and that might at least give us something more to watch than an attack against a deep-lying defence all evening.
We shall see.
Catch y’all tomorrow.