Arsenal are prepping themselves to take on Crystal Palace with an opportunity to win four straight Premier League matches and five straight in all competitions.
Arsenal never managed four straight Premier League wins in the 2019/20 season. In fact to find four League wins in a row, you would have to go back to that incredible, early run from Unai in late-August through September of the 2018/19 season in which Arsenal won 7 straight and went 14 matches unbeaten. So the current side is a long way from reaching that 14 match mark, but the Gunners will be taking it one match at a time.
Arsenal are winless in their last four league matches versus Palace (3D, 1L) but, historically speaking, Arsenal have dominated the matchup only losing 5 times in their last 47 matches (28W, 14D, 5 L).
Getting a win would not only add another win to their running tally, it would be another win at the Emirates where, in stark contrast to last season, Arsenal have been worse this year. Granted a win tomorrow would bring the Gunners level on points won at and away from home, the poor home form hasn’t escaped Arteta’s attention.
“We need to get our home form established, we’ve had some issues there and now it’s time to get some wins. We’ve got two at home right now that are going to be key for the future of our season in the Premier League and the team is in great spirits.”
Arteta may get a boost to his lineup in order to help deliver a home win in the form of Thomas Partey. Earlier this week, Arsenal delivered some promising news on Thomas Partey, Martinelli, and Gabriel.
“Thomas has been in full training for the last four or five days, he’s completely asymptomatic. It would be a little bit rushed to try and play him against Newcastle but I think he will be ready for Thursday.”
Everyone is anxiously awaiting Partey’s return to see how big of a boost to the side it can be for the midfield. He doesn’t solve the void of creativity that Arsenal are missing, but with the rise of Emile Smith Rowe, a solid box-to-box presence with technical security could be that much more crucial to Arsenal’s goal of reaching the next level in their team development.
But if Partey plays, who partners him? It’s definitely not a question, Arsenal fans would have hoped they would be answering in January, but Partey’s run of injuries has made that answer rather evasive. It seems most likely that Ceballos and Xhaka will compete with one another, vying for the open midfield spot, but whoever Arteta selects first will have the upper hand in retaining that spot for the season.
That center midfield role isn’t the only contentious spot up for grabs. Rob Holding received his new contract this week, which suggests that he will continue to play a significant role this season at the right center back position, likely over Luiz who has no future at Arsenal after this season. But the real battle is at the left center back spot.
Gabriel is back from testing positive for Covid, but Pablo Mari was excellent in his absence. Does Arteta stick with the in form player or turn back to the player that has won multiple Player of the Month awards? Tomorrow’s selection won’t necessarily be indicative of the rest of the season, but it will become much more interesting if Mari is selected and puts on another great performance.
If there was one thing evident from the last four matches, driven home in the FA Cup, it’s been the changing of the guard and establishment of who Arsenal’s “big guns” really are. Smith Rowe came into the same match as Willian and his performance was miles better; Saka came in and was a creative injection that offered sparks of opportunity every time he touched the ball; and when Lacazette came in, the trio was complete and we saw what those three can create together.
In his press conference, Arteta commented on Smith Rowe saying, “The other day he came into the game when we needed a different energy and a threat in the box he did exactly what we expected and he scored the goal, which is something that we’ve been talking to him about.”
“There is no message to any senior players, this is a squad of players with different profiles and everybody has to be pushing each other and trying to make each other better. Everybody contributes in a different way because every player is different in the squad.”
Say that as much as he wants, there is a clear message being sent. Whether that message is sent by just Smith Rowe or by Emile, Saka, and Martinelli is up for argument, but the next generation of Arsenal stars are here and ready to make an impact, even if that means less time for veterans.
Crystal Palace will offer another opportunity for Arsenal to better themselves against tactics that have exposed their flaws. Crystal Palace will be more than content to sit in a defensive block and frustrate Arsenal while looking to launch fast paced counter attacks through the wings using Eze and Zaha as their outlet to transition. Given a lot these attacks go through Palace’s left side, it will be a big test for Rob Holding and Bellerin to defend against, but the burden doesn’t fall solely on their shoulders.
Whoever occupies that right side of Arsenal’s central midfield pivot will also be tasked with slowing down that transition before it can get a head of steam. If the pivot is Xhaka and Thomas Partey, one would imagine that could fall to Partey on the right. A big task for him if he does in fact make his return.
“They are a really dangerous side and they have shown that against big teams,” Mikel says. “They are a really compact and organised team and you know what you’re going to expect. They have players with a big individual talent that just need moments to win games, to create actions that can unbalance the game so we have to be very careful with that.”
“Then, we have to play to be dominant again in the game. We go from the first minute to try to win the game, to attack them and be cautious as well of the strengths that they have and try to control them as much as possible.”
It would be fair to suggest that Palace isn’t quite as lethal as Tottenham on the break, but if you were asked to predict how Arsenal loses the match, it would be on a break similar to Son’s goal in the North London Derby. A ball up top, a deft touch into the path of a runner, and a moment of individual brilliance putting Arsenal behind.
To prevent this, Arsenal will have to stay switched on for the full ninety minutes.
It’s another chance to gain three points, another chance to climb the table, and an opportunity for Arsenal to give themselves a cushion before they enter another tough stretch in their schedule.
The end of January, and all of February, is filled with tough matchups including: Southampton (A), Manchester United (H), Wolves (A), Aston Villa (A), Leeds (H), Manchester City (H), and Leicester (A).
Throw in the fact that the Europa League picks back up on February 18th and Benfica is far from the easiest draw, and Arsenal’s road is far from smooth sailing. Continuing to gain confidence and gather points is a really important step for prepping some of these young players for tougher matchups.
It starts today with Crystal Palace and winning all three points at home!