Arsenal vs Crystal Palace: Match preview, likely line-ups and score prediction
Arsenal will host Crystal Palace in Sam Allardyce’s first away match as new manager of the Eagles, as the ex-England boss goes in search of his first victory.
In their previous outing on Boxing Day, a late Olivier Giroud goal spared Arsenal’s blushes and kept them nine points behind Chelsea in the title race.
Palace, in Allardyce’s first game at Selhurst Park, were held to a 1-1 draw by Watford after Troy Deeney’s penalty cancelled out Yohan Cabaye’s first-half opener to spoil Big Sam’s debut.
It could have been a different story, though, had Christian Benteke’s tame penalty not been saved by Heurelho Gomes in the Watford goal.
Arsenal’s hard-fought and ugly victory over West Brom would have come as a huge relief after successive Premier League losses.
A win of this fashion could actually be what’s needed to give Arsene Wenger’s side a kick-start into 2017, as notoriously the teams that finish high up in the table possess the ability to grind out results even when not at their usual fluent best – much like the Gunners did on Monday.
Down at the other end of the table, it’s easy to see why Crystal Palace were forced into a managerial change; they are currently in the middle of an awful run of form which has seen them win only once in their last eleven Premier League matches, dating back to late September.
This run, which includes seven losses, has seen the Eagles freefall down the table to leave them precariously placed two points above the relegation spots.
Welsh international Aaron Ramsey could be in contention for his first Arsenal start since August after being out for four months through injury, making his return from the substitutes bench against West Brom on Boxing Day with a fifteen minute cameo.
Kieran Gibbs will be assessed before the match after coming off with a knee injury in the second-half against West Brom, whilst Theo Walcott could be in line to return to the side.
German duo Shkodran Mustafi and Per Mertesacker are both still ruled out until late January with their respective injuries, whilst Danny Welbeck has continued training this week and could be in line for a place on the substitutes bench.
For Palace, Damien Delany is suspended for the trip to the Emirates after picking up his fifth booking of the season against Watford, whilst James McArthur and Joe Ledley are still sidelined.
Loic Remy, Connor Wickham, James Tomkins, Steve Mandanda and Bakary Sako are all still ruled out through injuries.
After Giroud’s match-winning performance against West Brom on Boxing Day, Wenger has a dilemma; does Giroud keep his place, or does Theo Walcott come back into the side if passed fit and Alexis Sanchez take the Frenchman’s place in a forward role.
With Delaney out through suspension, Zeki Fryers looks set to partner Scott Dann in the centre of defence for his 9th appearance of the season.
Despite eventually seeing off West Brom after completely dominating the entire match, Arsenal haven’t been their free-flowing selves over the recent Christmas period. Losses to Everton and Manchester City, followed by a lethargic win over the Baggies, reflect the pressure that Arsene Wenger’s side are under to catch runaway leaders Chelsea.
Their inability to finish on Boxing Day, despite having 80% possession, is a worry in front of goal for Arsenal, but they should have too much for a Palace side adjusting to life under Allardyce.
Palace showed promising signs in their draw against Watford with some excellent attacking moves at times, but their defence is still quite weak in place and needs to be addressed in January. As a result, it would be a huge surprise if they held out for 90 minutes without conceding.
Allardyce’s side will certainly provide more of an attacking threat at the Emirates than West Brom did, but Arsenal will know that a job needs to be done and that should be enough to see them maintain their run of being unbeaten at home since the opening day.
Predicted Score – Arsenal 2-1 Crystal Palace