This is going to be a meeting of two managers with a huge amount of Premier League experience. There is no love lost between Arsene Wenger and Sam Allardyce after some great battles in the past, especially when the latter was Bolton manager. Although they have had disagreements in the past, there is mutual respect and Wenger will know that Crystal Palace offer a difficult test now that Allardyce has taken over. These two sides have different ambitions, with Arsenal pushing for a title challenge and Crystal Palace focusing on survival. However, anybody can beat anybody in this league and Sunday will tell us a lot about both sides.
Arsenal have recovered from their recent blip, but they need further improvement if they are going to challenge for the league title this season. Their narrow victory over West Brom was far from convincing, but it allowed them to get back to winning ways and that was important ahead of 2017. The Gunners are nine points off of the top of the league and need to be almost flawless to catch Chelsea. That said, they have the required quality in the squad. Their problem has been consistency and that can be worked on over the coming weeks. A win on Sunday is a must to go into the new year with confidence.
Crystal Palace are only two points above the relegation zone and they could be in the bottom three by the time they kick off on Sunday. That could provide them with an extra layer of pressure, but they will know that time is on their side and that in Allardyce, they have a manager with an impeccable record of avoiding relegation. There were signs of improvement against Watford and they should have won the game, but they missed a good opportunity to extend their early lead from the penalty spot.
In this fixture last season, the sides finished level at the Emirates Stadium. This came during a period when Arsenal’s title challenge was already over and that could be seen in their performance. Alexis Sanchez found the back of the net for Arsenal, while Yannick Bolasie scored for the visitors. Meanwhile, at Selhurst Park it was Arsenal that prevailed thanks to an Olivier Giroud goal and an own goal from Damien Delaney. Joel Ward scored for the home side.
Danny Welbeck is closing in on a return to first team action and could be involved on Sunday. Shkodran Mustafi, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs are nearing full fitness, but are unlikely to feature against Crystal Palace. Santi Cazorla, Per Mertesacker, Mathieu Debuchy and Theo Walcott won’t be available for the home side.
Joe Ledley and James McArthur are big doubts for Crystal Palace. Damien Delaney will be missing through suspension after accumulating five yellow cards. Steve Mandanda, Pape Souare, Loic Remy, James Tomkins, Bakary Sako and Connor Wickham remain on the treatment table.
Arsenal have won more points (7) with goals in the final five minutes of matches than any other team in the league.
Christian Benteke has now missed two penalties this season, more than any other player in the league.
He has been one of the standout players in the league this season, but he has been disappointing in the last two or three matches. The rumours about his future could be having an effect on his performances on the pitch as it is bound to be on his mind. That said, he has been very professional since signing for Arsenal and it is surely only a matter of time until he is back on the score-sheet. His contribution of 12 goals and six assists is incredible for this stage of the season. This is set to be his best season in the Premier League and he is a big contender to finish the season as the PFA player of the year. Although Arsenal’s inability to challenge for major honours could hold him back. Palace remain fragile at the back and they have yet to rebuild their confidence after the departure of Alan Pardew. Sanchez is an intelligent player and very good at creating space for himself. I expect him to be a real threat on Sunday and get himself back among the scorers.
After joining Crystal Palace last summer, Yohan Cabaye was seen as a player that could take the club to the next level. However, he hasn’t been able to reach the level of performance that he showed consistently when at Newcastle United. At times, he was out of favour with Alan Pardew and it was surprising that the former manager couldn’t get the best from the player considering their relationship at St James’ Park. However, he was moved into a more advanced role by Sam Allardyce and he managed to get himself on the score-sheet. It was his best performance for some time as he was getting more involved in the build-up play and making the dangerous attacking runs that we know he can make. He could be set for a much better second half of the season and I expect him to cause problems for Arsenal.
It is going to be a fiercly competed match as Sam Allardyce will set his side up to get among the Arsenal players. They may choose to be overly physical and exploit the pace they possess on the counter attack. I would expect the home side to get their second win in a row and build some momentum going into the new year. These aren’t the matches that Allardyce will be judged on and he needs to be given an opportunity to strengthen in the transfer market. There is a lengthy injury list at Selhurst Park and it is causing the new manager early problems.