The usual five talking points ahead today’s home match against Crystal Palace in the Premier League…
All too painful recent memories
There were a good few dropped points last season that cost Arsenal Champions League football this time around. But in the end, you can pinpoint the Gunners’ final two home matches. A draw against Brighton proved terminal, but before that Roy Hodgson’s Palace turned up at the Emirates and won 3-2. It was the stuff of nightmares, with three goals each highlighting different ways in which, defensively, the Gunners weren’t up to the basics. The consolation goals were scored by Ozil and Aubameyang. Not much chance of a repeat of that particular pair netting today then! The race for third and fourth place at the conclusion of the season felt a bit like a marathon steeplechase (grand national free bets are available for those who fancy a flutter) without one horse showing any sign of getting anywhere near the leaders, and unexpected fallers left, right and centre as the four clubs in contention did their best to blow their chances. It felt remarkable, given the inconsistency of Arsenal’s post January performances, that they were ultimately as close as they were, and the Palace result.
Pepe v Zaha
Arsenal bid for Wilfried Zaha during the summer transfer window, but would not match Palace’s valuation. Zaha was even willing to move abroad just to get away from Selhurst Park, but he remains there. Having said that, he has failed to find the net for his team so far this season, after nine Premier League appearances. The danger is that this is a run that can’t last too much longer. The Gunners, of course, turned their attentions to Zaha’s fellow Ivorian Nicholas Pepe once they failed to secure Zaha. It’s also been a so-so campaign on the goals front so far for the number 19, with only a converted penalty until Thursday night’s substitute appearance against Vitoria. You won’t need reminding what happened then, and there will be a buzz if Arsenal win a free kick within five metres of the Palace box today.
The leapfrog possibility
I am scratching my head as to what to make of the Premier League table at present. Leicester two points behind Manchester City and looking a decent prospect for a top four finish (Kolo Toure is doing some coaching on the defence there apparently). Manchester United two points off the relegation zone. As for Arsenal, a win today will not imoprove their fifth place position, but at least would keep them within touching distance of Chelsea in fourth. However, Palace are only a point behind Unai Emery’s team, so an away win would see the Gunners drop to sixth. Mind you, we should at least not need to worry about Spurs also rising above Arsenal. I mean, they are away at Liverpool. Surely they can’t win that one? Can they?
Given Emery tends not to start the same players in Europa League and the following Sunday, it’s difficult to imagine too many changes to the line-up that started in Sheffield on Monday night. That’s madness given that Arsenal will probably need Kieran Tierney’s ability to get a ball in the box, but Emery isn’t going to start him three days after his last game given the amount of games he missed injured at the season’s start. The two possible changes would be that Dani Ceballos – who started neither match during the week – will come if for Joe Willock, whilst we wait to see if Alexandre Lacazette is regarded as fit enough to start instead of Buyako Saka. Given that he didn’t complete a full game against Vitoria on Thursday, I can only see the number 9 being used as a sub, so I reckon it’s most likely just one change in the starting eleven from the previous Premier League outing.
Patience is running thin
In spite of Bramall Lane seeing only Arsenal’s second defeat so far this season, the general chaos in the organisation of Emery’s teams, and the ponderous nature of their build-up play is starting to create a culture of dis-satisfaction with the head coach, which explodes when results are poor, such as in the away games at Watford and Sheffield United. There doesn’t seem to be a solution to this, other than Arsenal simply managing to outscore their opposition, because one thing’s for sure, Unai isn’t going to improve the team’s defensive organization – there is nothing in his history to suggest he can. Frankly, the more you think about it, the more amazing it seems that he won the Europa League three times in a row. And yet, Arsenal are somehow sitting in fifth place, unbeaten in Europe. It’s a very strange season. That Spurs, Champions League finalists, are five places below at least shines a ray of light on the season so far. But that will all be forgotten if Palace win today and demote Arsenal to sixth.
Lightning can’t strike twice can it? Palace have scored a total of eight goals in nine league matches this season. Mind you they have only conceded ten. I’m going to stick my neck out and predict a rare clean sheet for Emery’s men, and a narrow home victory. 1-0. Might not be a thriller, but at this stage, it has to be about points and consolidation. And a few signs of genuine commitment, as displayed by Arsenal’s opponents at Bramall Lane, would be nice. _______________________________________________________________
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