With Manchester City comprehensively thumping Chelsea at the Bridge yesterday, it leaves Arsenal in a familiar but unwanted position – 4th.
After yet another promising first half of the season, Arsenal have now limped toward a finish line which has appeared too far a distance for the team to reach. They still have targets although the title is beyond them, and to stop this campaign being the worst in Wenger’s era, they must first defeat Crystal Palace.
Changes in the Gunners side will be expected, especially after the capitulation last weekend in the 3-3 draw versus West Ham. First up on the list of fixes will be Petr Cech, who is expected to come in for David Ospina. Ospina hasn’t put a foot wrong in his displays since coming in for the previously injured Cech but the opinion is that perhaps some of the goals that sailed in last weekend may have been prevented with Cech in goal thanks to his strong command of the penalty area.
The same reason to a degree is why Per Mertesacker is also thought to be recalled for today’s game in place of Gabriel. The Brazilian copped a fair amount of flak for his failure to combat the effective Andy Carroll and his lackadaisical approach to his positional discipline, but both are strengths for the lanky German.
Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky both continued their fight toward full fitness with another appearance for the Under21’s recently, but this match will come too soon for the midfield duo. No other changes are in the pipeline, with Danny Welbeck again thought to be preferred to Olivier Giroud up top and the rest of the attacking lineup – Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and the vibrant Alex Iwobi – staying in the side.
Emanuel Adebayor has a great chance to play against his former side, with Dwight Gayle out injured. The former Gunner – along with Connor Wickham – are expected to be utilised aerially in this game, with Pardew taking heart from West Ham’;s tack last week. In fact, Alan Pardew’s pre-match press conference comment is quite telling –
Players of that size, power and pace can terrorise defences. And that’s what we want Connor (Wickham) and Ade (Adebayor) to do for us.
“Connor’s had some terrific games for us but just not enough of them. We’ve really missed his presence at times, we took Adebayor in the last window because we were struggling to get Connor on the pitch.
“And Ade played well against Everton when he came on, so now Connor’s got competition, he’s got to stay fit.”
So with Mertesacker back in the team, Arsenal will hope they can deal with the many lofted ball into the box. It isn’t merely
a battle in the air that Wenger must prepare for however. Crystal Palace, despite their struggles of late, possess one of the most dangerous counter-attacks in the Premier League. Now that Yannick Bolasie has returned from injury, they also possess a player who can twist and turn a full-back to shreds. Pardew may have to be bereft of Wilfried Zaha though, who faces a late fitness test on a shoulder injury.
Crystal Palace may not be mathematically within reach of relegation, and Arsenal may still be able to claim the title, but both outcomes are pretty much unlikely. Both teams still have plenty to play for and Palace may have one eye on their FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley next week.
The Gunners need to buck their current trend in this season’s London derbies however – they haven’t won any of three they have played at home and have only won two of their last five home games overall – so there are causes for concern. Palace meanwhile, haven’t beaten Arsenal in the Premier League since 1994, but with sketchy form from the Gunners, the Eagles will have high hopes for a result.
Three points or bust for Arsenal, otherwise it won’t just be the horror of tottenham finishing above them that will be upon them – another fourth placed finish would be unthinkable…..