This weekend sees another London derby in the Premier League. Although this fixture doesn’t carry the prestige of Arsenal’s match against Tottenham, the points are all that matters as the Gunners need to start to accelerate their Champions League push. They haven’t finished outside of the top four places under Arsene Wenger, but with Tottenham, Liverpool and Southampton all looking dangerous, this season could see the end of Arsenal’s presence in Europe’s premier competition. Meanwhile their opponents Palace have been very good under Alan Pardew, losing only once in the league and at home, they are a threat to anyone with some of the most passionate support in the league. Arsenal won’t enjoy going there, but they can’t afford to drop anymore points against the league’s lesser sides.
Crystal Palace are returning to league action after exiting the FA Cup against Liverpool which shouldn’t damage morale in the squad, as they competed against the side that finished second in the Premier League last season. Alan Pardew has certainly overseen an upturn in fortunes since joining the club from Newcastle at the beginning of the year. Their aim will still be to maintain their Premier League status and with 27 points on the board, that is looking likely. They are only six points off Stoke in the top half. Pardew is very ambitious and he will see the top ten as a genuine target for his side. If they achieve that, then it will be another remarkable turnaround in the second half of the season at Selhurst Park.
Arsenal, meanwhile, are in fifth place and with just five points separating five teams from third to seventh, it will be an interesting fight for the Champions League places this season. Arsene Wenger has the experience over his counterparts and that could prove vital over the coming months, especially now his star players are starting to return to full fitness. Arsenal have a very talented squad, but the derby day defeat to Tottenham has risen doubts among the supporters. However the run in looks kind to Arsenal with only one daunting away trip left and that is to Old Trafford in the second to last match of the season, by which time the Gunner’s top four spot may have been secured.
In the previous meeting this season on the opening day, it was a close encounter which saw Arsenal run out 2-1 winners after Brede Hangeland opened the scoring for Palace. The scorers for the home side that day were Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey, with the Welsh international scoring the winner late on.
Crystal Palace have taken ten points from Alan Pardew’s five games in charge, which only five teams in the league have matched or beaten over the same period.
Arsenal have started to score goals more freely, accumulating 13 goals over their last five matches in the league.
Yannick Bolasie has the ability to cause every side problems in this league and his return will be crucial to Crystal Palace as they seek to get enough points to secure their Premier League status. Wilfried Zaha and Jason Puncheon have been good in his absense, but Bolasie has the unpredictability factor to his play which the other two just don’t. The impact he can have on games was highlighted against Newcastle, as he came off the bench and provided an excellent cross for Fraizer Campbell to touch into the net after beating the full back. He has one goal and four assists to his name this season. He will want to become more productive in the final third as he develops in the Premier League. Bolasie has recently returned from the African Cup of Nations, in which he was one of the key reasons why the Democratic Republic of Congo finished third in the tournament. His pace and ability to beat defenders will cause Arsenal problems on Saturday, and if he puts in crosses like he did against Newcastle, then he could have a telling impact for his side.
Olivier Giroud has been excellent since returning from injury and has once again given Arsenal a real target up front, with his hold up play being key in bringing the midfielders into play. Alexis Sanchez has been vital for Arsenal this season and the Chilean has benefited from playing alongside Giroud, who has linked up well with the former Barcelona player. Giroud has managed to score 7 times in 14 Premier League appearances, while the Frenchman has also assisted twice. Danny Welbeck showed promise earlier in the season, but since the return of Giroud, it’s been clear that the former Montpellier forward is much better suited to the style of the Gunners. He will be a danger on Saturday as he can get involved with the more physical side of the game, which will be crucial against big centre backs like Damien Delaney and Brede Hangeland. The forward scored twice in the FA Cup and this could give him confidence to return to goalscoring ways in the league.
James McArthur and Mile Jedinak could be fit enough to start the game, which would be a huge boost as both are crucial to Palace. Yaya Sanogo is struggling with a hamstring injury, but he would have been ineligible to play against his parent club anyway. Jonny Williams and Jerome Thomas are both out injured and will not be involved this weekend.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a doubt, but it looks likely that he could be involved at Selhurst Park. Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Debuchy and Abou Diaby are all out injured and will miss this weekend’s fixture away to Crystal Palace.
It will be a tough battle for Arsenal, especially considering Palace will play with a lot of physicality and it is matches like these which cause Arsenal to struggle as we saw against Stoke earlier on in the campaign. Arsene Wenger needs his side to go on a run and this match is a must win, especially when you consider that their rivals are starting to hit top form. Crystal Palace will be well organised and difficult to break down, and they will be relying on the skill of both Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha to break down the Arsenal back four. There will be goals in this one, but I think Arsenal will have enough to beat Palace.
Crystal Palace 1-2 Arsenal