Arsenal seek consistency as they travel to soaring Crystal Palace

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Monday night kick-offs are the worst. You have to wait until after the weekend is finished to see your team play, and by the time you get there the buzz that weekend football created is long gone. It’s like an afterthought; an “Oh yeah, that game is also on” type of feeling. Nevermind the implications the earlier results have on both teams. Crystal Palace vs Arsenal is a big game at both ends of the table and the pressure is intense.

Arsenal seven points off the top four

Spurs dispatched Watford with ease and picked up yet another win, Liverpool pulled it out at Stoke, City strolled to three points at home to Hull and United piled more misery on Sunderland. All this has left Arsenal three points behind fifth placed United, seven points behind fourth placed City, nine behind Liverpool in third and a whopping 14 points behind Spurs in second. There’s no room for error. We’re approaching the point where even if the teams above us slip up the points difference may just be too big to overcome.

Arsenal, though, will have been buoyed by their 3-0 win over West Ham in mid-week and will take confidence from their record against the bottom half of the league. They rarely drop points in these games – in fact, they haven’t lost to any of the current bottom ten this season. If they play as did on Wednesday night it’s difficult to see how Palace would cope.

But this is Arsenal we’re talking about, and you always worry that the longer the gap between games, the less focussed they become. The West Ham win was good but there’s no room self-congratulatory back patting. Now’s the time to put a run together before the really tough games come about.

Consistency of selection would help a lot. The partnership of Elneny and Xhaka did well last time and deserve another game. With the threat of Benteke to contend with, Arsenal need to be able to keep the ball in Palace’s half and isolate the big man from the rest of his team. Equally, forcing Wilfried Zaha to run the other way will decrease his threat as well.

Palace could distance themselves from the relegation zone

As for Palace, a four match winning streak has taken them out of the relegation zone. It took a while for Allardyce’s team to get going, but those wins, capped off with a fantastic effort at Stamford Bridge, has given them a genuine chance of survival. Now they’ll be keen to prove that the defeat at Southampton in mid-week is just a minor blip.

It’s been a good weekend for them as well. Hull and Swansea lost and Middlesbrough could only manage a goalless draw. With three of their rivals dropping points, and with Sunderland cut adrift at the bottom, they’ll see this game as a prime opportunity to gain some breathing room. And this being an Allardyce team, you know they’re going to be fired up against us.

Since it’s an Allardyce team, we also know in advance that they’ll pose an aerial threat. Palace have a tall team and players capable of putting in good crosses. Much like Carroll was, Benteke is an obvious threat as a powerful aerial presence who will do damage if he’s close to the Arsenal goal. Arsenal also have to be weary of the unpredictability of Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha. Both players are capable of producing moments of high quality from very little, and Zaha in particular has shone during this Palace run.

The Team News

Arsenal are still without Petr Cech and David Ospina, so Emi Martinez will deputise in goal once more. Laurent Koscielny’s Achilles problem isn’t as bad as first feared, but he won’t be available for this one. Lucas Perez is unavailable due a thigh problem.

Palace will be without Yohan Cabaye, which could see Mathieu Flamini play against his former team. Defenders Scott Dann and James Tomkins are also out. Patrick van Aanholt, James McArthur and Fraizer Campbell are all doubts.

Predicted line-ups:

Arsenal:

Martinez; Bellerin, Mustafi, Gabriel, Monreal; Elneny, Xhaka; Walcott, Ozil, Alexis; Welbeck

Crystal Palace:

Hennessey; Ward, Kelly, Sakho, Schlupp; Flamini, Milivojevic; Zaha, Puncheon, Townsend; Benteke

Prediction

I expect Palace to be fired up and physical, which will make this a tricky game. But I’m feeling positive about Arsenal right now and signs suggest they’re getting their act together. I’m going for a 2-0 Arsenal win.