Crystal Palace have been very unlucky this season. A few big decisions have gone against them and it’s made their life harder that it would anyway have been. But among the Premier League teams, they’ve also been a side that, from the little that I’ve seen, seem to be most lacking in concentration and determination.
At this level, none of the teams should be taken lightly. A few refereeing decisions and a quality effort from any defence and goalie can make a team highly competitive. Throw in a set-piece goal or lack of concentration from the supposed favourites and the odds on an upset can shift dramatically. Arsenal have already experienced this in the home banker against Aston Villa. Nevertheless, if there was one team against whom Wenger should ideally be able to make changes to the squad and still get a win, a side without any clean sheets in the League thus far, one with a caretaker manager who probably doesn’t have a shot at taking over full-time, and coming into this game with a run of five consecutive defeats would be it.
Crystal Palace have a lot of familar names in their ranks. Chamakh, Cameron Jerome, Jerome Thomas, Gabbidon, Guedioura, Barry Bannan, Jimmy Kebe, and Digkachoi among others have all featured in the Premier League before and have put in some decent performances. But the problem for them seems to be that none of these players have shown genuine consistency at the highest level. In a way, I get a feeling their football is too fragmented and lacking the feel of being a team.
Part of the problem could also be that under Holloway they’ve tried to be too adventurous at times. That means instead of focussing on keeping things tight and waiting for their chance they’ve tried playing out from the back even when the players didn’t seem ready for such a game at this level. It’ll be interesting to see if Keith Millen will continue with the same philosophy or if he sets his team up to defend and make it hard for the Gunners. In either case, pressing high up the pitch could yield dividends.
Most teams have found it fairly easy to break open their defence. Even though their total number of shots conceded is not very high (13.9 is just one shot per game more than Arsenal’s 12.8), the number of clear cut chances conceded seems to be troublesome. Along with Sunderland, Crystal Palace are the only other League side without a clean sheet this season (Arsenal have only one, won’t get a better opportunity to get the second) and they are conceding over two goals a game. The gaps between their lines and those between individual defenders in the back four are often quite large and easily exploitable. The Gunners could have an enjoyable outing and a great offensive game if they can get off the blocks quickly and score the first one early.
One might argue Ian Holloway’s sides are not going to be the best defensive ones in the League but the worry for the Eagles is that their attack hasn’t clicked either. Their passing has been erratic and the forwards have shown very little in the form of understanding and combinations even though they have some appreciable and diverse individual qualities. Chamakh, for example, can be very good at holding the ball up and bringing others into play. Gayle, Puncheon, and Bolasie are quick and tricky. Jerome has scored some impressive goals in the past. They just haven’t performed as a unit and have failed to score in 4 of their 8 League games.
Millen’s best hope would be to keep things tight and hope his pacy attackers can get something on the counter or their physical qualities help them nick something from a set-piece. If the Gunners are not sharp, they will have a decent chance.
That brings me to the issue of rotations and the need for keeping players fresh. It’s hard to imagine Arsenal cannot win this game with the following line-up,
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal – Arteta, Rosicky, Flamini – Gnabry, Bendtner, Cazorla.
Most of these players have not played continuously. They should be fresh and hungry. It’d be great to give most of these players two games in a row with the Capital One Cup tie coming up in midweek. That should also give the likes of Ramsey, Wilshere, Özil, and Giroud a good breather before a string of big games.
This is a question I’ve raised on a number of occasions – what’s the point of squad depth if it’s not used when needed?
That said, I’ll be amazed if Wenger makes many changes. Probably Flamini coming in for Wilshere and Cazorla for Rosicky are the only two changes I expect to the side that lost to Dortmund. In that case, Ramsey will be pushed to the right. It’s sub-optimal but should work if the off-the-ball game is sharp.
We are likely to see,
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Arteta, Özil, Flamini – Ramsey, Giroud, Cazorla.
The trade off that Wenger has to consider is freshness at a later date, chances of key players picking up injuries in a physical game, and more match-time for squad players vis-a-vis the probability of dropping points in a fixture almost all rivals will win. This is an absolutely must win game and that is likely to sway the manager’s opinion against many rotations.
The only way I see Crystal Palace get something out of this is if their physicality disrupts the Gunners, particularly if the referee is lenient or the law of averages results in a big decision going in their favour. That and, of course, any extension of the ‘Be a Gooner, Be a Giver’ campaign following the midweek generosity.Follow @goonerdesi