The usual five talking points ahead of today’s match against the Eagles…
There’s no doubt that Palace without Zaha are a less effective team, but the Ivorian attacker is fit and likely to enjoy exploiting the space on Arsenal’s right side when Hector Bellerin moves forward. If the Gunners are to extend their winning sequence, they will need to keep Zaha from enjoying too much of the ball where he can hurt the opposition. Who will play on the right side of the central defence to cover Bellerin? Sokratis or Mustafi? Neither are blessed with great pace. Maybe Lucas Torreira might be the one to help out. It’s certainly a problem that needs solving.
Largely thanks to the contribution of Zaha, Roy Hodgson kept Palace in the Premier League for the current season. It’s amazing to think that, having been England manager for three major tournaments, Hodgson is still in club football at the age of 71. That’s older than even Arsene Wenger. It’s a little odd, in that, given how long he’s been in the game, he has not actually won anything outside of Scandinavia. Of course, at Selhurst Park the priority is simply remaining in the division, and so far this season, in spite of only having won two games from nine, Palace are sitting three places above the relegation zone. In brief, there are worst teams, but having lost their last three league games, this does look like a team in freefall. Their last two fixtures at home saw them draw with Newcastle and lose to Wolves. Palace do not generally sack managers too quickly (Frank de Boer was an exception last season), so Hodgson’s job will not be under threat as long as he keeps the club clear of the bottom three. However, there seems little doubt this is a team currently there for the taking.
The left-back question
Granit Xhaka filled in on the left side of defence in Lisbon last Thursday. With the injury problems in that position, it will probably between the Swiss midfielder and his compatriot Stephan Lichtsteiner as to who plays there. My money is on the latter with Xhaka moving back into the centre to partner Lucas Torreira. However, Matteo Guendouzi had a decent enough match against Sporting, so Emery may choose to keep him in the team and extend Xhaka’s run in defence.
Rotation, rotation, rotation
It would be a huge surprise if Lacazette and Ozil did not return to the staring eleven after being subs on Thursday. Likewise Lucas Torreira. Emery will have a couple of decisions to make as to who else will start in attack, but it’s a nice problem to have. My money is on Iwobi and Ramsey. Emery seems to be retaining Rob Holding in central defence based on his form, and I can see Mustafi replacing Sokratis. And if things aren’t working, we know the manager will make early changes if required. And no longer are the replacements so predictable, which has to be a good thing, right?
Scoring, scoring Arsenal
The Gunners should have scored more than a single goal against Sporting, but fortunately, one turned out to be enough. Palace aren’t great defensively, having conceded 11 in nine games – the same as Arsenal. The big difference between the two sides is putting the ball in the net – Palace have only scored five this season, compared to their visitors’ 22. As Unai Emery continues to work with the players, their attacking prowess seems to improve week by week. It’s hard to envisage them failing to outscore Roy Hodgson’s team, and it’s good that the goals are shared out amongst so many of the players.
Given the form of the two teams, it really is difficult to see anything but an Arsenal win, even with Thursday’s Europa League game a theoretical handicap. I’m going for another 3-1 Gunners win.
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