Not too many people expected Crystal Palace would look down to Arsenal before their clash. Alan Pardew’s side has already shown their quality by beating Norwich at the Carrow Road with their biggest reinforcement Yohan Cabaye already giving their fans something to be excited about. The French midfielder – who had been linked with a move to Arsenal to the level of this article (via talksport.com) back in 2012 before his unsuccessful spell with PSG – will pull all the strings for the hosts today. He is one of the best central midfielders in the league and that’s where Francis Coquelin will have to repeat his last season’s performance.
Unlike Cabaye, our – so far – only signing hasn’t had the best opening game, to put it mildly. Petr Čech had a nightmare home debut against West Ham by conceding two totally avoidable goals. The Czech is ready to bounce back (yes, pun intended) with a commanding performance.
Our full-backs will have a difficult job today and saying that they hold the key of our victory is not an overstatement. Yannick Bolasie, Jason Puncheon and Wilfried Zaha can all wreck havoc on the wings and our full-backs must not allow themselves to lose them out of sight for a second. That suggests that Wenger may be more fond to keep going with Mathieu Debuchy on the right side of the defence with Nacho Monreal on the left.
Arsene Wenger has enjoyed a fine record against Alan Pardew – the Frenchman has won the last seven matches against Pardew’s respective clubs Newcastle and Crystal Palace – for a while but let’s not forget that Wenger had won nine games in a row against West Ham before losing the opening match of the season. Pardew did a great job with both Newcastle and Palace last season – he pretty much had made the survival of Newcastle possible with a solid first-half of the season before he brought Crystal Palace to the upper half of the table in the second half of the season.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny will have to give much better performance as well. It’s not like West Ham had too many chances but neither Per nor Kos looked at their best at the opening.
Coquelin’s partner in the central midfield is likely to be Santi Cazorla. The little magician will set the pace of the game as a deep-lying playmaker.
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Mesut Özil will create space and make things happen from the No. 10 role. He needs to show something concrete.
The big question mark stands above our right-wing position. The concept with Aaron Ramsey on the right has shown flaws while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – despite being our most exciting player up front in both official games so far – has issues with possession on our own half.
Left wing is occupied by Alexis Sánchez. Our Chilean superstar is likely to make his return to the starting line-up and that will make our attack more sharp and dangerous. It remains unclear whether he has managed to regain his match fitness though – his short cameo against West Ham has shown both virtues and flaws of his earlier inclusion to the squad.
Finally, there is a question regarding our centre forward as well. There are two different concepts – the one with pacey Theo Walcott and the one with strong Olivier Giroud up front. Neither of those looks perfect though. Giroud scored a goal on his last visit to Palace in our 2:1 victory which might work in his favour.
The thing is, we have to return to the winning track and in order to do so we must avoid mistakes from the opening league game. We haven’t lost an away league game since the North London Derby defeat in February (via Wikipedia.com) – we have won five and drawn one with our aforementioned victory at Selhurst Park being the first one in the sequence. If we fail to win, we would already have a huge gap to bridge between us and Manchester United, not to mention that our next home game – the one against Liverpool – would put a huge pressure on our back.
Let’s say we’ll bounce back with a 3:1 victory today – just like we did at Craven Cottage against Fulham in 2013-14 after our defeat to Aston Villa – with goals from Alexis, Özil and Walcott for us while the consolation goal for the hosts will be provided by Bolasie.