Sunday, 17 April 2016

Arsenal v Crystal Palace Preview

With Arsenal's hopes of winning the Premier League all but gone they have to knuckle down to their annual task of securing a top four finish. The prize for a top four finish is Champions League football next season and it's worth an awful lot more than just the monetary rewards. It's a lot easier to lure prospective transfer targets to the club with the carrot of Champions League football unless of course those players would like to advance past the last 16 of the competition.

With four of their remaining six games at home against teams in the bottom seven of the league they should be able to complete that task comfortably. Of course completing any task at all, never mind in a comfortable fashion, is something this Arsenal team are hardly adapt at. Their ability to self destruct has been well documented and they showed it again last week when they drew 3-3 away to West Ham after leading 2-0 just before half time.

With a game coming up on Thursday night at home to West Brom there might be some temptation for Arsene Wenger to shuffle the pack today. The team has been much better going forward in the last few games and I don't think he will make any changes in midfield or attack, but he could be tempted to alter the defence. It's unfair to blame the defence solely for the torture Andy Carroll put them through last week, but they certainly weren't up to the task and didn't know how to handle his threat.

The full backs didn't get enough help from the players in front of them when it came to preventing the crosses Carroll thrived on and the central defenders just couldn't cope with his aerial ability. The fact that the manager said afterwards that he didn't expect Carroll to play had some bearing on the lack of preparation in dealing with him, but the inability to coach from the sideline was a damning indictment on Arsene Wenger. They were his players out there who were not prepared properly to deal with an opponent and he either couldn't get the message across to them during the game or they just didn't listen to that message.

The only real options for him would be to bring in any or all of Petr Cech, Per Mertesacker and Kieran Gibbs. I would be surprised if Cech didn't return, but I don't think the other two will come off the bench today. Mertesacker is getting close to the end of his career and Gabriel Paulista needs to play more games to get used to playing in the Premier League. It looks like Gibbs could be on his way out of the club in the summer in search of more regular first team action and I think that should be enough for Nacho Monreal to keep his place despite a poor performance from him last week.

Palace offer a very real threat from set pieces and it's something Arsenal have to be aware of and they need to be properly prepared to deal with it. We appear to be a team who do not learn from their mistakes and the players have a chance today to show that is not the case. We know what the threat is before the game and every player should be well drilled in his part to play to cut out that threat.

Palace beat Norwich last week for their first win in the league since December and they drew with Everton during the week. They have a midweek game coming up too and an FA Cup semi final to play against Watford next weekend. It's a very busy schedule for them at the moment and the win last week should mean their Premier League position is secure for another season. With all of that in mind their minds could be elsewhere today and Arsenal need to press home any advantage they can get.

Arsenal may be the top scorers away from home in the league, but they have struggled to find the net at home. Their defensive record at home is only bettered by United though which all points to a low scoring game today. Palace might have only won that one game since December, but they are still a difficult team to break down.

I hope to see the attacking flair of the last few games again today with the balance the six players in front of the defence have found. The team have to defend an awful better as a team than they did last week though and they should win if they do just that. They are all basic requirements for any team and it says an awful lot about Arsenal that you can't be sure they will get the basic things in their game right.

There's still an outside chance of finishing second ahead of Spurs and Arsenal need to win today to put some pressure on them before they play Stoke tomorrow night. Two wins this week and anything other than a win for Spurs tomorrow night would leave the team in a much healthier position with only four games to go. I think they will win today's game to start with at least and do their part in trying to make sure their near neighbours finish behind them as they have done every single season since Arsene Wenger took the reins in 1996.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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