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Crystal Palace preview: another win a must as the run-in heats up

Howdy.

We face Crystal Palace today and it’s another must-win situation for us. I’m talking more our future prospects here than a need to win because of a shambolic run. Our last five league games will be extremely tough to get all 15 points from (Spurs, United, Everton, Stoke and Soton in there somewhere), so grabbing all 12 from the preceding four is vital. We’ve done part of the job by thumping West Ham, now the attention turns to beating Palace, Boro and Leicester.

It was hard work getting the three point at Selhurst Park last season (not to mentioned we dropped two at the Emirates), plus Sam Allardyce is probably even more hell-bent on getting the better of Arsene Wenger than Tony Pulis (neither are close to Mourinho though), so I don’t expect anything other than a tough game. Fortunately, we have some things going for us.

Head-to-head

First off, Palace have only beaten Arsenal twice in 33 attempts in the league (losing 22 of those games). Secondly, Arsene Wenger has never lost to the Eagles in the league in 11 matches (eight wins, three draws). Finally (Sam Allardyce klaxon!), Fat Sam has lost 9 of the 10 league games against Arsene Wenger.

Not nearly as good against AW as he claims

On the downside, Palace are in better shape overall (four wins in last five league games) and are looking to equal their PL record of three home wins on the bounce. While our recent form … well, let’s not go there. Hopefully we really did end the rot. However if we lose, we’ll equal our own record of four consecutive league defeats. And the players will likely not leave the stadium alive.

Team news update

In a surprising twist, we will still be without our first- and second-choice goalkeepers, which means Emi Martinez gets another start. Hooray, I love it.

In a less surprising twist, we’ll have to deal with Koscielny’s absence once again, albeit Arsene said he expects Kos’ injury to be short-term. Hopefully, his idea of “short-term” and “very soon” are quite different.

Finally, Francis Coquelin should boost our squad (queue your jokes) by getting over whatever family problems he had. Poor Lucas Perez is not even mentioned anymore. He may as well be saving tropical rain forests or fighting global warming and we’ll never know.

Coquelin’s return gives Wenger another option

Squad

I don’t expect any changes to our back five, unless Wenger decides to give Mertesacker some minutes, but that’s unlikely. Mustafi and Gabriel showed they can deal with Andy Carroll quite well, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t be able to marshal Benteke the same way.

I’m pretty sure both Xhaka and Ozil will keep their places too, that leaves us with the third piece of the puzzle unknown. I’d be more than happy for Elneny to continue, plus it will look really strange if he doesn’t, given the praise Arsene heaped on the Egyptian after the West Ham game:

“He gives us fluency and Elneny is a continuity player who is a generous player and wants to help the team. His attitude is always to help the team and he is always available. It’s a quality. He’s quickly available. There are two kinds of availability in midfield. Ones who straight away in a fraction of seconds can understand where he has to go to get the ball and these kind of players.”

Elneny to keep his place in an unchanged midfield?

Quite obviously, though, Elneny faces stiff competition. Both Oxlade and Ramsey should be fit to start, plus Coquelin, Arsene’s preferred midfielder, at least in the league, is available once more. We’ll see. I have my misgivings about the defensive solidity of the Xhaka – Elneny pairing. I think the duo playing together was more down to little choice and the calibre of opponent on offer, rather than Arsene viewing this base as his go-to option.

I also like to think we’ll see at least one change up front, as Welbeck has been unconvincing lately. Think Giroud deserves another go, unless Wenger wants to revert to Sanchez as the spearhead, a development I wouldn’t have any qualms about either. My gut feeling is the Frenchman will go with Ollie.

Predicted line-up: Martinez – Bellerin – Mustafi – Gabriel – Monreal – Coquelin – Xhaka – Walcott – Ozil – Alexis – Giroud

Time to bring back Ollie Giroud?

The verdict

Selhurst Park is an uncomfortable ground to go to, but we’ve cornered ourselves into needing a win and have no other option but to come out swinging. The West Ham thrashing should give the players a little more confidence, and it’s no bad thing our star players seem to have rediscovered their touch.

All of our Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool and City got their wins on Saturday, so we also need to keep up pace. We had quite a bit of rest since last Wednesday and don’t need to travel far, which is another bonus factor. Now we need to do the job and get another win under our belts.

Come on you Gunners.

Back to review the game.

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