21 February 2015

Chamakh and Sanogo, er, mostly Chamakh, lead the line...

Chamakh. Sanogo. Two one-time Gunners, two towering presences along the front line. One brings the hair; t’other, the chaos. Together, they could terrorize the Arsenal defense, and—oh. Sanogo can’t play against Arsenal?  More’s the pity. Then again, he’s hardly found time on the pitch, begging certain questions about the purpose of the loan. More to the point, though, Palace’s attack hardly depended on ol’ Yaya in the first place (or Chamakh, for that matter). So who are we up against?

Under new manager Alan Pardew, Palace have made some strong improvements to a squad that was flirting with relegation. Having taken 10 points from 15, they’ve climbed to 13th on the table, still just five points from the drop-zone but enough to draw level with last season’s high-flying Everton side. The Eagles will be boosted by the potential return from Asian Cup duty of Mile Jedinak, who, alongside Jason Puncheon, could make life difficult for us. What they each might lack for pace they make up for in physicality, and we’ll have to keep an eye on the disruptions they can cause. Waiting in the wings to pounce on second-balls will be the pacier Frazier Campbell and Wilfried Zaha. At the other end, new signing Papa Soaré could debut at left-back in a defensive unit that has tightened up consirably in recent weeks. Their 4-4-1-1 formation will dare us to break them down while threatening to counter with clearances ahead to Chamakh and from him ahead to Campbell, Puncheon, or Zaha.

At our end, there’s a temptation to look past this one to the Wednesday clash with AS Monaco, but a chance to climb to third in the Prem should not be overlooked. Should Soaré debut, this could induce a bit of drool from Walcott, wh0 might fancy his chances against someone unaccustomed to that kind of pace.  With Cazorla doing well from a more-withdrawn role, Özil should return to the centre of the pitch in order to pull the strings and send the through-balls. The first time we saw Walcott, Özil, and Alexis together, against Leicester, it didn’t quite click, whether that was due to first-time jitters, Alexis’s lingering injury, or other factors. This time through, though, it’s hard to resist the sensation that the trio will show us at least a glimpse of what’s possible when that combination of pace, vision, and drive come together. When just one of them is in form, he’s difficult to stop. Add a second one to the mix, and few squads can stop them. All three? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet…

LAST 3:
Arsenal 2-1 Palace (16.08.2014)
Arsenal 2-0 Palace (02.02.2014)
Crystal Palace 0-2 Arsenal (26.10.2013)

FACTFILE:
Arsenal have scored at least two goals in 9 of our last 11 Prem matches.
Arsenal have not lost away to Crystal Palace since 10 November 1979—a string of eleven matches.
The two clubs first clashed on 1 November 1969, a 1-5 win for Arsenal.

INJURIES:
Arteta, Diaby, Debuchy, and Oxlade-Chamberlain are still out, and Ramsey faces a late fitness test. Wilshere may make the bench for the first time since his injury back in November.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI:
Ospina; Monreal, Gabriel, Mertesacker, Bellerin; Coquelin, Cazorla; Alexis, Özil, Walcott; Giroud.

PREDICTION:
Despite the improved form Palace have shown under Pardew, Arsenal will want this one far-more than the Eagles do.

SCORELINE: 
Palace 1-3 Arsenal

Full disclosure: this match preview first appeared at Goonersphere.