Happy matchday folks! Hope you’re all good? Excited for The Arsenal finally being back today? I know I bloody am! It feels like it’s been AGES! It’s almost as if it’s been worse than an international break, for some weird reason, as I recently pointed out here. But it’s back, The Arsenal are back, there’s an opportunity for us to get back to winning ways and to be quite frank there is no other result other than a victory that will be acceptable today against Roy Hodgson’s Palace.

Arsenal have had over a week off, the batteries have been given enough time to re-charge, the players should be chomping at the bit to get on to the pitch this lunchtime and we have to see a reaction after three defeats in a row. We face a Palace side with one win in their last 11 matches, who have just been knocked out of the FA Cup, who played in midweek whilst we were off and who whilst they don’t exactly have an injury crisis, will be missing the likes of Doucourre, Ward, Olise and Ayew, who is at the AFCON.

But we all know The Arsenal, right? I mean we played Fulham over the Christmas period and they have one win in their previous five games in the Premier League in which they have scored a grand total of two goals, which of course was against us to take their only win since early December. SO teams always have a hope against us, it seems!

We need to nip that right in the bud today and that means I want to see an Arsenal team with fire in their bellies. I want to see goals, I want to see controlled and dominant defending, I want to see a match in which Arsenal take the initiative and the game to a Palace side that should be licking their wounds. I want blood.

If we don’t get that, if we don’t pick up all three points today, I think we have to accept that it’s going to be a fight for top four this season. It’s as simple as that. So these Arsenal players need to be ready to fight for everything and they need to be prepared for a Palace side that I think will sit deep in a low block and look to frustrate us from minute one. That’s how they’ve played previously under Hodgson and that’s how they will play today. We should expect a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 and Eze will be their danger man on counter. They will cede possession to us and pose the question to these Arsenal players: “Can you ACTUALLY break us down?”

And that’s the answer we simply HAVE to have. We are going to come up against eight or nine defenders at time and their outlet will be through the likes of Anderson at the back, whose long ball distribution is, I seem to recall, quite good. They’ll then rely on either Edouard or Mateta as the main aerial threat, with Eze as the playmaker behind also looking to cause a nuisance. This will be football that we’ve seen a lot this season and we should be ready for it, so the name of the game today is no silly mistakes. It feels like we’ve been victims of the old ‘one shot, one goal’ trope when we’ve lost this season and if ever there was a game in which that could happen it was today. Think the West Ham game at home. Yeah, that could VERY MUCH be on the cards unless we take the chances we get today.

My hope is that Arteta has been working on solutions for this. Is it that we overload more in wide areas to avoid Palace doubling up on our wide forwards? We’ve seen too much this season that Saka has been stood up against defenders who just double down on him and that will 100% happen today. Or is it that we need more box crashing from our team? That means the likes of Havertz could have a very big role to play. Whatever it is, there needs to be a solution. Palace’s low block approach has seen them sitting sixth in the league for xG against and they’re seventh from top for the number of goals they have conceded. That means that although they don’t score loads, they don’t concede loads either. The picture is being painted of a game of attack versus defence here and that means we can’t see the Arsenal of just before the warm-weather training break.

Palace don’t progressively carry the ball, they don’t progressively pass the ball much compared to the rest of the league, They tend to launch the ball, they allow a lot of crosses from wide areas. What does this all tell me? What I’ve already said – this will be a low block, compact, “defend inside your own box” performance whilst looking to take advantage of set pieces, corners, or launched out balls from the back.

Arsenal need the attacking players to step up. We all know what our problems have been, but now is the time for the lads to do the business in the final third. No more excuses. Get that ball in the net. Repeatedly.

In terms of the team line up I’m expecting it to be:


White   –   Saliba   –   Gabriel   –   Zinchenko


Odegaard   –   Havertz

Saka   –   Jesus   –   Martinelli

So pretty much Mikel’s preferred XI today. And that team needs to show up. We need to move the ball quickly; I don’t want to see four, five, six touches on the ball. I don’t want to be reminded of the bad old days of David Luiz walking with the ball at his feet in the defensive third with a bunch of touches before doing nothing. I want to see movement, craft, a desire to stretch a deep-lying Palace side and to create spaces for each other that enables chance creation. I want to see quick interchanges in tight spaces and I want us to force that fatigue on Palace. Defending without the ball for 90 minutes is hard and the fact they played midweek and we didn’t needs to be an advantage we utilise.

We have the players to do it. They just need to prove it today.

Fingers crossed we get back to winning ways and fingers crossed tomorrow’s blog is one of joy and happiness, not frustration and angst.

Come on you Gunners.