26 October 2013

Crystal Palace: match preview

Saturday's trip to Selhurst Park offers us one last, best chance to rest some of the wearier legs. The Eagles (as they're sometimes called) are struggling after earning promotion last year, having scored just six goals while winning only once in eight matches. Despite a promising start that include a narrow loss to Spurs in the opener and a 3-1 win over Sunderland (sounds familiar...), they've now lost five in a row and Ian Holloway has left "by mutual consent", prompting Arsène to say that "it was very harsh..he has done exceptionally well" to get them promoted. News that Tony Pulis might return to the Prem after he parted ways with Stoke will have to wait as Keith Millen steps in for the time being.

The last time we faced Crystal Palace was in 2005, and we won 5-1. Of course, there's not a lot to be learned from that, so we'll set it aside and focus on more recent and relevant issues. One narrative that piques interest would come through seeing Marouane Chamakh lead the line against his former club, but this is hardly enough to strike fear into anyone's hearts. As he did for so many years with us, he's failed to produce much of anything, scoring a single goal in his eight appearances. As I discussed in this post, some of this may be attributable to being displaced when Robin van Persie stepped in, but, then, again, he hardly distinguished himself when given opportunities after van Persie left, even when Giroud struggled to make his mark early last season. Opposite Chamakh, we might even see another van Persie-d striker, one who almost joined Crystal Palace himself, Nicklas Bendter. After all, Giroud has played some heavy minutes, and we have to start thinking about some rotation. Bendtner has shown some glimmers, such as the assist he provided Eisfeld against West Brom or the two headers he scored for Denmark. While he may not inspire much confidence, we have to do something to give Giroud a breather, especially as we look ahead to our first gauntlet of matches, with Chelsea and Liverpool visiting and with trips to Dortmund and Man U beyond that.

On the flanks, I'd like to see Gnabry on the right and Cazorla on the left, and I imagine that the two of them will create a lot of chances for themselves and for Bendtner (should he indeed start). Both he and Giroud will have a significant height advantage over most of Palace's defense (10-12cm), and crosses and set-pieces could lead to great scoring-chances. It might be worth resting Özil and Wilshere by bringing on Rosický. His pressing and work-rate, not to mention his creativity in the attack, are vital elements, and I'd love to see him buzzing about again, perhaps even grabbing his first goal of the season while he's at it. Let's hope I'm as good at predictions as I was the last time I called on Rosický to score when he scored not once but twice to lead us past West Brom...

Moving to the more-defensive side of things, Flamini is available again after suffering a concussion against Norwich, and his departure from that match and absence against Dortmund challenged us quite a bit, so it would be good to see him retake his role in the defensive midfield alongside Ramsey, a man for whom "fatigue" is a foreign concept and who would probably relish the opportunity to put his error against Dortmund behind him while also disrupting Palace's attack. 

It's in the back-line that I think I might be shuffling things too much. It seemed that the second goal against Dortmund came in part through fatigue on the parts of both Gibbs and Sagna. Gibbs struggled to stay in front of Grosskreutz to prevent the cross, and Sagna didn't get back at all, leaving Lewandowski wide open for the finish. I'm assuming that it was fatigue, rather than, say, a lack of effort or desire, that left us so exposed, but that's another story for another day. Whatever the case may be, I think it's time to send in Monreal and Jenkinson; neither has played much lately and will be fresh. Their more-cautious approaches would see them stay home a bit rather than pressing too far forward to track back effectively. By contrast but for related reasons, I do hope we see Thomas Vermaelen come in for Koscielny, who has logged heavy minutes and looks decidedly less "Bosscielny" of late. This might be the tetchiest of subs, given how little Vermaelen has played, but he's still the captain, dammit, and we need him. He's handled his demotion remarkably well, for all outward appearnances, but I'd rather he know that he's playing over being subbed in on short notice after someone goes down injured.

Last but not least, stay with Szczesny. He's hardly to blame for the Dortmund goals but would probably like a chance to redeem himself, perhaps even by keeping his first clean sheet since the Napoli match? We'll see. I don't underestimate Crystal Palace, and it's true that we've stumbled before, whether it was Blackburn or Bradford or Birmingham, but Palace has looked toothless enough that we should put them on their collective arses quickly and thoroughly.

Arsenal 3-0 Palace. Rosický, Gnabry, and Ramsey to score.