Arsenal have had a very eventful week. At time of writing, Theo Walcott has been sold to Everton, while deals for Alexis Sanchez to move to Manchester United with Henrikh Mkhitaryan going to the Emirates, Pierre-Emerick Aubamyang moving to Arsenal, and Malcom to go to the Gunners are all being discussed, according to various sources, including David Ornstein of the BBC. While there is a lot of talk, nothing has been completed, at time of writing, so they could be very short-handed when they host Palace. Walcott is gone, Sanchez will not play, and they may not be able to complete signings before the match, much less get them registered and integrated into the team. The Gunners have been very strong at home this season, with wins in eight of 11 matches, but they could find Crystal Palace a tough nut to crack without some of their top players.
After starting the season miserably with no points in their first seven Premier League matches, Crystal Palace have become a formidable Premier League team again under Roy Hodgson. The Eagles have claimed 25 points in their 16 matches since and have only lost three of them. One of those three losses did come against the Gunners less than a month ago, but two of the three Arsenal goals were scored by the aforementioned Sanchez. They’ll hope to take advantage of his absence and Arsenal’s possible lack of a replacement on Saturday.
- Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla are expected to miss out on Saturday, while Mesut Ozil, Nacho Monreal and Laurent Koscielny will undergo late fitness tests, according to Physioroom.com.
- Andros Townsend, Scott Dann, Jason Puncheon, Mamadou Sakho, Joel Ward, Connor Wickham, and Jeffrey Schlupp are all expected to miss out, while there is some doubt surrounding Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s fitness, according to Physioroom.com.
Arsenal: Granit Xhaka
Without Sanchez and possibly without Ozil, Arsenal may struggle to break Palace down. Xhaka will have to play a key role in keeping the ball circulating, keeping Palace penned in when possible, and making sure to limit their counter-attack opportunities when it is not possible. Xhaka will have to keep his discipline both with the ball, not trying to play killer passes that aren’t available or take wild long shots, and off the ball, not getting caught out of position. The Swiss international has struggled to do this at times at Arsenal, but he’ll be key if the shorthanded Gunners are to stop their five-match winless skid.
Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha
When the two met at Selhurst Park in late December, Hodgson set up in a 4-4-2 with Zaha as one of the two strikers looking to soak up pressure and counter-attack when Arsenal lost the ball. This plan didn’t work particularly well in the first half, but, once the Eagles stepped up their pressure at the beginning of the second half they caused the Gunners problems. Zaha, in particular, caused them problems, assisting the equalizing goal. He’ll look to cause some of the chaos he did in that second half again on Sunday.
Arsenal are there for the taking and Palace have played really well under Hodgson. Arsenal are hardly as easy to beat at the Emirates as they are away from home, dropping points there to only Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea, but Palace can grab something against them.