16 April 2016

Time to put Pardew—and Palace—in their place...

We're into a tetchy, bum-clenching time of year when we have to anxiously assess not only our rivals' ambitions but those of the squads fighting relegation. So it is with Crystal Palace. Though they may look to be safe, they have to know that every point matters. Think of the time and energy you've put into figuring out how we might overtake Tottenham or hold off Man City. Parallel-universe calculations are coming out of Selhurst Park. Leave that to them, though. We know full-well that we have to smash them to keep alive our slender hopes of Champions League qualification, not to mention a St. Totteringham's Day.

As to that first point, we do have to keep one eye on the progression of Liverpool in the Europa League, Man City, in the Champions League, and Man U in the FA Cup. It's too early to get out the abacus, the sextant and the slide rule just yet. Suffice it to say that the permutations are problematic. With those on the back-burner, let's turn our attention to that which we can control: Crystal Palace.

Though Pardew's men have won just once in their last six, there's a certain dismal science to it as he seeks to stave off relegation: a draw at Sunderland. Narrow home losses to Liverpool and Leicester. A home-win over Norwich sandwiched between tough draws with West Ham (away) and Everton (home). In short, they are looking to stay up. Heck, they've even kept two clean sheets, including one against prolific Everton. Then again, they failed to score against Everton or Norwich, two of the Prem's more-generous defenses. This encapsulates Palace's season quite nicely: an anaemic attack in front of a stingy defense.

By now, you're seeing where this might lead: one of those matches in which we dominate possession, nibble around the edges of an area packed with defenders, and struggle to create chances. However, we've shown enough verve in recent weeks to settle jangled nerves. Scoring eleven goals in four matches—including two against the Prem's stingiest defense, one while short-handed—suggests that we have found a purple-patch of sorts. The next step, of course, is to nurture that and hope it grows.

With Iwobi on the left, Alexis on the right, and Welbeck through the middle, our attack has looked more fluid, vital, and incisive than at any other point in this campaign. Given what's on the line for us, we have to hope that this trio can continue to deliver while those behind them—culpable in extremis for conceding three goals to Andy Carroll last weekend—can follow their lead.

LAST 3
Crystal Palace 1-2 Arsenal (16.08.2015)
Crystal Palace 1-2 Arsenal (21.02.2015)
Arsenal 2-1 Crystal Palace (16.08.2014)

FACTFILE
Arsenal have won their last six matches against Crystal Palace across all competitions.
Arsenal have not lost at home to Crystal Palace since 1994.
The two clubs first clashed on 1 November 1969, a 1-5 win to Arsenal.

INJURIES
Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain have been ruled out. Yes, that is all.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Bellerín; Coquelin, Ramsey; Iwobi, Özil, Alexis; Welbeck.

Despite Pardew's predilections, Arsenal's desire should drive a comfortable victory.

PREDICTION
Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace.