New Year, new start? That’s what many of the visiting supporters will be hoping for when Arsenal welcome Crystal Palace to the Emirates on Sunday.
After sacking Alan Pardew on the eve of Christmas, the Eagles are now hoping to boast a tougher defence under Sam Allardyce, a man who has become an expert in avoiding relegation.
Palace sit two points above the drop zone in 17th place, and if things don’t go their way in North London it could be a New Year’s hangover for many of their big players.
Meanwhile, Arsenal are looking to build on their scrappy 1-0 win over West Brom after dominating the game for 90 minutes and finding the net in the 86th minute.
Arsene Wenger knows there’s no such thing as an easy game, but with a trip to Bournemouth just two days after one thing he’ll have to be aware of is proper rotation.
The Gunners will welcome Shkodran Mustafi back into the squad after recovering from a hamstring problem sustained in the 3-1 win over Stoke City earlier this month.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck are also on the road back to the first team, and Wenger will make a late decision on whether to include them as options.
Theo Walcott is set to miss this one after failing to shake off a minor calf strain, whilst Kieran Gibbs is also missing after picking up an inflammation in his knee.
Wenger may feel like using Mohamed Elneny’s legs before he heads off to the Africa Cup of Nations on Monday, where he’ll miss at least four games with the Gunners.
Arsenal Absentees: Mertesacker, Cazorla, Debuchy, Walcott, Gibbs, Welbeck (doubt)
Allardyce may be forced to throw former Arsenal man Mathieu Flamini into the starting XI after Damien Delaney picked up a one match suspension during their 1-1 draw with Watford.
Joe Ledley and James McArthur will face late fitness tests to determine whether or not they can feature, but it looks as if the lengthy break from their last game will have helped.
In the attacking ranks, each of Connor Wickham, Loic Remy and Bakary Sako are all out meaning Christian Benteke will be tasked with finding the net by himself.
Meanwhile at the back the injury problems continue, James Tomkins and Pape Souare are out until at least mid-January meaning Scott Dann will once again lead the defence.
Palace Absentees: Sako, Wickham, Tomkins, Souare, Delaney, J. Benteke, Remy, Ledley (doubt), McArthur (doubt)
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Cech, Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal, Elneny, Xhaka, Lucas, Ozil, Iwobi, Alexis
Palace (4-2-3-1): Hennessey, Kelly, Dann, Fryers, Ward, Flamini, Cabaye, Zaha, Puncheon, Townsend, Benteke
As much as we don’t want to look back at the last few weeks, it’s been a considerable wake up call for these players that you can’t lose focus in any fixture.
The Gunners went into a bit of a slump during December, with back-to-back defeats suffered against Everton and Manchester City as well as multiple injuries to deal with.
But despite it being a nervy win over West Brom, these players have managed to find some sort of fight and they’ll want to take that into the New Year as they chase down their rivals.
With Liverpool playing Man City and Spurs facing Chelsea it could be a massive week for the table to change, and Arsenal need to ensure they carry this momentum into the FA Cup.
It’s difficult to judge this Palace side because although nothing will change overnight, with Allardyce in charge you just know things will adapt dramatically in defence.
If anything, Big Sam loves playing against sides like Arsenal because it means his players can have backs to the wall and hope to catch out a sleepy Gunners defence with a quick counter.
Palace have won just once in their last 12 Premier League games, that dramatic 5-4 victory over Swansea, so confidence isn’t exactly high among the ranks.
Many players expressed their gratitude towards Pardew when he was sacked so perhaps the mood in camp is a bit stale following his departure, so Arsenal need to expose that from the off.
Prediction: Arsenal 2 – 1 Crystal Palace
There are no excuses, Arsenal simply have to win this game if they’re going to stay in and around that title challenging spot in the top of the table, but things won’t be easy.
You look at the side Palace will put out and it’s got attack and speed throughout the final third, and that will cause upset to the nervy legs of Gabriel who has been shaky at centre back.
Arguably the best header of the ball in this league will want to cause Arsenal’s short defence out, but to do that he’ll need a delivery and with Arsenal at home I don’t think he’ll get it.
The Gunners are likely to rotate in order to keep up with their busy fixture schedule, and I’d love to see Giroud back in the starting XI for only the second time this season.
When Palace are lacking confidence one of the last places they’ll want to come is the Emirates, so I don’t see them getting anything out of their New Year’s celebrations.
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