01 February 2014

Crystal Palace Preview: A chance for Bendtner to score against all three promoted clubs

Despite the despair many of us probably feel at a transfer-window that was, again and as always, more sound and fury, more motion and less action, we emerge arguably a bit stronger than we were. For all of the fuss around Draxler, it was highly unlikely that he’d be the season’s savior. If anything, he’s a target for the long-term. In the here and now, it’s worth reminding ourselves that he’s 20, full of potential, and, at the moment, another midfielder. As such, he’d join the most-crowded section of our squad rather than bolster an area we really wanted to address more urgently.

Still, I can’t help but wonder why Arsene left it so late when a lower-profile move earlier in the window, though less-scintillating than a Draxleresque signing, might have made more of a difference going forward. Dimitir Berbatov, for example, completed a loan-move to Monaco, which shows that such a move might have been possible for us had we desired it. Even Arsene has to realize that Giroud can’t continue to go it alone—and that the support he gets, such as it is, from Bendtner and Sanogo (cough)—is not enough to inspire much confidence. Still, the title-race is all but unchanged as neither Man City, Chelsea, or Liverpool completed significant moves of their own.

A club that did make a number of moves would be Crystal Palace, whom we’ll host Sunday. We may not see winger Tom Ince (loaned from Blackpool) or midfielder Joe Ledley (signed from Celtic), but Tony Pulis, whom I’m sure all Gooners hold close to their hearts, has already revived the Eagles’ fortunes, dragging them up from the drop-zone thanks to five wins in their last ten Prem matches. Say what you will about Pulis’s Neanderthalian approach to football. The man keeps teams from relegation, and he might just the first manager in living memory to keep Palace in the Prem two years in a row. Whereas Palace flirted with different formations throughout the first half of the season, they seem to have more or less settled on a standard 4-4-2 that allows their defensive midfield pivot to shield the defense more effectively while also creating a somewhat more unified link from defense to offense, and it’s starting
to show in the results.

We might therefore look to this as a visit from Stoke as we look to the match. Of course, Palace can throw on a Shawcross, nor is their keeper quite on a level with Begovic, but the players Pulis does have are starting to show the kind of stubborn, if not stalwart, defense that is his stock in trade. As such, it could be a frustrating affair as we dominate possession against a side that will likely defend deep and in numbers. I’m thinking of the Cardiff match as a proxy for this one, although our attack was also off-kilter because Podolski had to play through the middle. They’ll be a tough nut to crack, but it might also be our last best chance to rest a player like Giroud ahead of the string of fixtures that loom. Bendtner, then, might get the start, with Cazorla, Ozil, and Gnabry behind him. In the defensive midfield, without Ramsey or Flamini available, I hope we’ll see Rosicky play alongside Arteta—Rosicky’s ability to press up the pitch and drive the ball upfield would be a welcome change from the more-static pairing of Arteta and Flamini against Southampton. We could see a run-out for Kim Källström, but that seems unlikely. Behind them would be Gibbs, Koscielny, Mertesacker, and Jenkinson with Szczesny between the sticks.

It looks like it will be a bit ragged as we probe for openings, but I think the draw with Southampton lends us deeper urgency as this is the last fixture in a while from which we should definitely grab all three points. We can hope for a tie between Chelsea and City—please, Mou-mou, play not to lose! Whatever happens there, however, we simply have to take care of our own business at home. I see goals from Bendtner (to complete a trifecta of goals against promoted clubs) and from Cazorla as he continues his fine run of scoring in a 2-0 win.

Make your predictions in the comments below—who scores, scoreline, Man of the Match?