Crystal Palace caretaker boss Keith Millen is set to face a difficult task on the touchline this weekend, as the Eagles welcome league leaders Arsenal to Selhurst Park on Saturday at 12.45pm.
Following the huge elation that surrounded Palace’s promotion to the Premier League last season, after just eight games since in the rigorous top-flight of English football, Ian Holloway walked away from his post as manager on Wednesday evening, with Millen now temporarily in charge of first-team affairs.
The 50-year-old has left by mutual consent after admitting the club now needs an “impetus of energy” to remain in the division and says he feels tired, worn out and that the spirit which was there during promotion, via the Championship play-offs, has faded away over the course of a busy summer of recruitment, which involved 16 new faces joining the ranks.
Whilst the former Blackpool boss believes it’s now the time for a new man, with fresh ideas and more drive for the uphill task ahead, to approach Palace’s dugout, some of that previous grit that Holloway feels has been lost needs to be quickly found this weekend, with Arsenal coming to town on the back of a disappointing 1-2 loss against Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League in midweek needing to be swiftly buried.
The Gunners thrashed Norwich City 4-1 at the Emirates last time out in the Premier League, whilst Palace are still reeling from their heavily disappointing 1-4 defeat on home soil against Fulham on Monday night – and also the departure of the usually charismatic Holloway after a short-lived tenure.
Arsenal will make the trip across London without Theo Walcott (abdominal), Yaya Sanogo (back), Lukas Podolski (hamstring), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby (both knee), whilst Mathieu Flamini (concussion) could return to the squad.
Palace have no fresh injury concerns ahead of the clash and long-term absentees Johnny Williams (ankle), Jack Hunt (foot) and Glenn Murray (knee) are the only players expected to sit out after Kagisho Dikgacoi (hamstring) returned to the bench against Fulham.
Head-to-Head: The Last Five Meetings
Arsenal 5-1 Crystal Palace – 14th February 2005 (Premiership)
Crystal Palace 1-1 Arsenal – 6th November 2004 (Premiership)
Crystal Palace 1-2 Arsenal – 25th February 1998 (FA Cup replay)
Arsenal 1-0 Crystal Palace – 21st February 1998 (Premiership)
Arsenal 0-0 Crystal Palace – 15th February 1998 (FA Cup)
Millen v Wenger: Possible Team Line-ups and Brief Analysis
Arsenal will most likely keep doing what they have been doing, in terms of formation and structure, against Palace and go with a 4-2-3-1 system with both Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla being deployed as creative midfielders out wide, who will continuously look to drift inside from their respective flanks should they each play a part in the game.
Whilst this match has probably come just too soon for Flamini, Mikel Arteta, who completed a staggering 95% (89) of his 94 attempted passes against Norwich last weekend, is expected to again operate deeper alongside Aaron Ramsey, who will want to push further forwards whilst retaining that competitive edge that has been so evident in his impressive performances so far this season.
Mesut Özil, who has currently scored two goals and created three assists, should float around just behind Olivier Giroud in attack, with both Wilshere and Cazorla being the extra support, and that is an area of the pitch Palace will want to ensure they can cope with by having a good number of bodies to get in-and-around the plethora of talent Arsène Wenger has in that department.
Millen may have his own notes on ways to comfortably deal with Arsenal’s quality, but it’s increasingly probable that he will deploy the same 4-3-3 setup as Holloway, which can easily revert into a 4-4-1-1 if you’re looking to defend against the opposition a little easier, with big demands on the wide men to track back, chase and unsettle players such as, Wilshere, Ramsey, Özil and Cazorla.
Palace will not only want players on the pitch that can prevent Wenger’s outfit from running the game in their half, such as impressive skipper Mile Jedinak and potentially Dikgacoi, although it’s probably too early for him to start the match, but will also hope that they can rely on strong players who are confident on the ball themselves like José Campaña and Jason Puncheon to start attacking moves.
Both Joel Ward and Dean Moxey love to bomb down the wings on the overlap or in link-up with the wide player in front of them, but they may be asked to take a more conservative approach in this game and focus on staying rooted to their positions – as Wilshere and Cazorla will want to drag them away by coasting into the middle, meaning Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs would then have an abundance of space in behind them to run into.
Key Men & Battles
While the onus so far this season, when talking about Arsenal’s sumptuous and free-flowing style of football that has saw them surge to the Premier League summit early doors, has been on the likes of both Özil and Ramsey, and rightly so, Olivier Giroud’s importance to Wenger’s side seems to be growing game by game and the Frenchman will be a key man that Palace’s two centre-backs must ultimately deal with if they’re to earn a positive result on Saturday.
Giroud, who has the most assists (4) in the league at the moment alongside his four goals, not only has a lethal goalscoring record in London that his next challengers need to be aware of, but he is almost guaranteed to get as many assists this season as he does goals because – like the Dortmund game highlighted – he is an exceptionally hard-worker and his awareness of his team-mates’ runs is now second to none.
[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”Wenger on Giroud’s improvement as a player and his importance to Arsenal” quotestyle=”style02″]Giroud is amazing because he develops well. If you compare his technical level when he arrived to how he is today, he has highly improved. Now he enjoys combining much more. From a player who was just thinking ‘I have to score’, he has now become a real team player. [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
The 27-year-old also shined against Norwich, grabbing two assists in the game, because of his brilliant touch, composure when leading the line and more importantly his ability to produce a perfectly weighted pass to a midfield runner.
Playing alongside clever and nimble players can be tricky for strikers of his stature, but Giroud’s intelligence means he is on the same wavelength and bar extreme pace to turn defenders over, he has the complete package in his locker and Palace will almost want to stop him just as much as the widely admired pair of Özil and Ramsey for example.
There is no doubt that Arsenal will want to dictate the tempo of the game through their possession-heavy and crafty build-up play – such as Wilshere’s extraordinary finish against Norwich thanks to Giroud’s aptitude – and as a result, Palace will need to be in their faces right from the off, with captain Jedinak being the man to lead from the front.
Whereas Palace have struggled to majorly adapt to the demands of the Premier League thus far, despite not having the rub of the green in some games through certain questionable refereeing calls, Jedinak is one player that has taken to the challenge expertly well and doesn’t at all look out of place or overawed by the experience.
Whilst being relentlessly cheered by one of the loudest and proudest fan bases in the country does help his displays for sure, the 29-year-old is currently one of the best tacklers in the league by winning a monstrous 83.8% (26) of his 31 attempted tackles so far. In conjunction with his inspiring tackling, also making 34 crucial interceptions, and leadership, Jedinak has completed 74.8% of his passes and also created six chances from open play.
Jedinak not only helps the backline by occasionally dropping in but he gives his central midfield partners assurance through his astuteness at accomplishing the so-called ‘ugly work’ all over the park.
He will once more be Palace’s key man to plot the downfall of whatever team is in front of them, but he can only do so much against such a strong and world class side and it’s almost as if the whole Palace team, rather than just one man, needs to be vital in trying to grind out a result that will do wonders in terms of restoring the lost confidence in the dressing room.
Extra Facts and Prediction
Crystal Palace have won just five points and scored five goals in their previous eight Premier League meetings with Arsenal.
Following their defeat to Fulham, Palace have now lost five successive Premier League games. They haven’t lost six in a row in league competition since March 2001.
Arsenal are unbeaten in 13 competitive away games, winning 11 and drawing two, whilst eight different players have scored for the Gunners so far this season – no side has had more (Chelsea also have 8).
No team has used more different players in the Premier League this season than both Arsenal and Crystal Palace (24).
Prediction: Crystal Palace 0-3 Arsenal
Referee: Chris Foy