31 January 2014

Match Preview: Arsenal v. Crystal Palace, Emirates Stadium, February 2, 11am (EST)

Ex-Gunner Marouane Chamack returns
to the Emirates for the first time
(Wikimedia / CC Licence)
We don't often think of Arsenal fixtures as "must win", but perhaps this fixture against Crystal Palace could be considered such a game. After a disappointing, yet hard-fought and (possibly un-?) deserved point away at Southampton earlier in the week, Arsenal welcome a resurgent Palace to the Emirates. The Gunners will be looking to gain all three points before a hellish run of fixtures in February and March. The task has been made more difficult with the news that Aaron Ramsey has suffered an injury setback and will be out for a "matter of some weeks". Jack Wilshere is about a week from returning, so could be fit to face Liverpool, while Mathieu Flamini's red card at St Mary's means he is suspended for three games, starting with the visit of the Eagles. There are no other injury issues resulting from the Southampton game, and Tomas Rosicky is likely to return to the squad after surgery on his nose. With Wilshere, Ramsey and Flamini out, there is speculation that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play alongside Mikel Arteta in the deeper midfield role; depending on his match fitness, this is also a role that Rosicky could fill. There aren't likely to be too many more changes from Tuesday's starting XI;

With the transfer window closing at 11pm GMT on Friday, there could be a new name in the squad by kick-off on Sunday. The Ramsey setback has made Arsène Wenger turn to Swedish midfielder Kim Kallstrom, who should adequately fill in for Wilshere, Ramsey and Flamini. It seems that the rumors on transfer deadline day are that there won't be any strikers making their way to the Emirates, despite Arsenal being linked with several this January. It also seems that any deal for Julian Draxler is completely off the cards now.* However, despite any possible transfer-related distractions, Wenger will have his charges fully focused on Sunday's match.

Crystal Palace have been 'resurgent' under every Gooners favorite (please read with heavy sarcastic tone) opposing manager Tony Pulis. The Eagles have climbed to 14th in the table, yet remain only 4 points clear of the relegation zone and embroiled in a 10 team relegation battle. Last time out, Palace beat Hull 1-0 at home, and have won 3 of their last 6 games (3-1-2). Pulis also seems to have discovered how to get the best from ex-Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh, with the Moroccan having scored 4 goals under the ex-Stoke gaffer. Crystal Palace have emerged in recent days as the favorites to sign England U21 winger Thomas Ince, who is widely regarded as a future Three Lions international. On deadline day they have also completed a deal for Wolves' goalkeeper Wayne Henessey, are close to a deal for Blackburn center back Scott Dann and could move for Celtic midfielder Joe Ledley.*

Pulis will have a near-full strength squad available for the trip across London. Last season's top scorer Glenn Murray remains out through injury and Jonathan Parr, Kagisho Dikgacoi and former Arsenal player Jerome Thomas are also all out with injuries.

Arsenal have a strong league history against Crystal Palace. In the last 9 fixtures between the clubs, the Gunners have won 6, losing only 1. Earlier this season Arsenal won 2-0 at Selhurst Park, Palace largely frustrating the Gunners for 90 mins; an Arteta penalty and a late Giroud header gave 10-man Arsenal a hard fought win. Despite injuries and suspensions, Arsenal should be strong enough to see off the Eagles on their first ever trip to the Emirates, where the Gunners haven't conceded since the Gerard Deulofeu's goal for Everton - 456 minutes ago. Match prediction: Arsenal 3 Crystal Palace 0

*This is all at time of writing.

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