Arsenal will be hoping to continue building a winning momentum when they take on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday.
The games continue to come thick and fast across England, as the busy winter shows no signs of slowing down. The second match-up in Gameweek 22 will be Saturday’s lunch-time kick-off, a London derby which sees Crystal Palace play hosts to Arsenal at Selhurst Park.
After a strong start to the season, Crystal Palace have tailed off a bit during the festive period. The Eagles have managed to win just one of their last seven fixtures across all competitions, although most of the winless results have been draws. Roy Hodgson’s men, though, come into the game on the back of a disappointing 1-0 defeat Derby County, which sent them packing from the FA Cup.
Arsenal, on the other hand, are finally starting to show some promise in a season during which inconsistency has been like second nature for them. The Gunners failed to win their first two games under the tutelage of Mikel Arteta, but have been victorious in each of their matches in 2020. The latest success came in the FA Cup, as they narrowly beat Leeds United to progress to the 4th round.
The reverse fixture, played back in October, ended in a 2-2 draw, a game that is infamous for Granit Xhaka’s outburst towards the fans, which ultimately saw him being stripped of Arsenal’s club captaincy. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Roy Hodgson has a spate of injury concerns hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of Arsenal. On Saturday, the Crystal Palace manager could be without as many as nine first-team players due to fitness troubles, with his woes being compounded by Luka Milivojevic’s suspension.
The Crystal Palace captain saw red as the Eagles were eliminated from the FA Cup at the hands of Derby County. Apart from Milivojevic, the major absentees for the hosts are Patrick van Aanholt, Joel Ward, Jeffrey Schlupp and Andros Townsend, while Maximilian Meyer is a major doubt due to a knock he sustained in the cup tie.
The good news, though, is that Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke could be fit enough to feature. Zaha could, in fact, make a direct return to the starting lineup while Benteke could make the bench, which will be a huge boost in itself, considering Hodgson is down to his bare bones in just about every department.
If Meyer is deemed fit to start, he will likely start at the right side of the Crystal Palace midfield. If not, Jordan Ayew could be deployed on the flank, with Connor Wickham leading the line against Arsenal. Zaha, meanwhile, will likely start on the left wing, in what will be a five-man midfield.
In Milivojevic’s absence, Cheikhou Kouyate will be named as the holding midfielder, charged with stifling Arsenal during their build-up play. Kouyate will be supported by James McArthur and James McCarthy, with the duo also tasked with relaying the ball out to Zaha or Ayew.
At the back, Martin Kelly, James Tomkins, Gary Cahill and Jairo Riedewald pick themselves in the four-man defensive line, with Hodgson having no other recognised defenders at his disposal. The makeshift state of defence means Vicente Guaita will have even more responsibility on his shoulders.
Probable Lineup (4-5-1): Guaita; Kelly, Tomkins, Cahill, Riedeweld; Ayew, McCarthy, Kouyate, McArthur, Zaha; Wickham
Unlike Roy Hodgson, Mikel Arteta will have a much more relaxed frame of mind, at least as far as the team news is concerned. Against Crystal Palace on Saturday, he Arsenal boss has just two first-team players on the treatment tables, namely Kieran Tierney (shoulder) and Calum Chambers (knee), with the latter being a long-term absentee.
Hector Bellerin has resumed light training after recovering from his hamstring injury, but the game against Crystal Palace will have come too soon for the Spaniard. In his absence, Ainsley Maitland-Niles will continue to line up as the makeshift right-back. On the opposite flank, Sead Kolasinac is a certain starter, seeing as Tierney is still on the sidelines.
At the heart of the Arsenal defence, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz will partner up once again, hoping to keep a third consecutive clean sheet. Rob Holding will drop down to the bench, with the formation being reverted to a 4-2-3-1. In goal, there is no looking past Bernd Leno.
Up ahead in midfield, Granit Xhaka will have Lucas Torreira for company in the double pivot, while Mesut Ozil will be given a free role in a more advanced position from where the German playmaker will look to pull the strings.
Nicolas Pepe has made an electric start to 2020 and is finally starting to show signs that he might be getting settled in at Arsenal. The Ivorian will start on the right side of the attack, with Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang lining up on the left flank. Alexandre Lacazette will spearhead the attack against Crystal Palace.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Leno; Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Luiz, Kolasinac; Xhaka, Torreira; Pepe, Ozil, Aubameyang; Lacazette
1. Arsenal to win @ 1.83
2. Both Teams to Score – YES @ 1.75
1. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to score 2 or more @ 4.33
- Crystal Palace are unbeaten in their last three Premier League meetings with Arsenal, winning one and drawing two.
- Crystal Palace have lost only one of their last eight matches in the Premier League (W3 D4).
- Arsenal are unbeaten in five away matches in all competitions since the sacking of Unai Emery (W1 D4).
- Crystal Palace have lost only one of their 13 Premier League fixtures against teams below them in the table this season (W6 D6).
- Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored eight of the Gunners’ 11 away league goals this term.
Player to Watch
With the weight of a big-money price tag wearing him down, Arsenal’s club record signing Nicolas Pepe did not make the best of starts to life at the club. The first half of the season can be termed as forgettable to say the least, with only a few sprinklings of positive moments.
However, there have been promising signs on display upon the term of the year, with Pepe playing a telling role in both of Arsenal’s wins so far in 2020. A London derby is always a game where one can lay down the marker and Pepe will be eager to make an impression against Crystal Palace. Can he continue his fine run at Selhurst Park on Saturday?
Crystal Palace 1-2 Arsenal
Arsenal looked imperious against Manchester United and there are indications that an identity is starting to be restored in the first-team. However, some major errors need to be ironed out, with defence in particular posing a concern. In fact, it was only Leeds United’s profligacy that did not trouble the Gunners earlier this week.
Crystal Palace, though, could pose some big problems, especially if Wilfried Zaha returns to action. Having said that, the Eagles do not boast a great record at home, and with their defence starting to show up some holes, Arsenal could have a lot of joy on Saturday, especially if Nicolas Pepe continues his merry run.
Expect a keenly contested affair to begin with, before Arsenal find a stable footing and romp home to a win. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for Mikel Arteta & co., with the scoreline unlikely to do justice to their performance, thanks to the heroics of Vicente Guaita.