Exclusive Wenger quotes, classic goals, team news and a poll. This is your pre-match briefing ahead of the Crystal Palace game.
Twenty-three days after that West Brom game, a West Brom-esque test.
No two opponents are exactly the same but the Baggies and the Eagles are variations on a theme: determined, quick counter-attackers with a strong aerial threat.
Our recent revival could rise or fall on whether we handle Christian Benteke more comfortably than we handled Craig Dawson, and we can’t say we haven’t been warned - Benteke wins more aerial duels than any other player in the Premier League.
“It’s always close against Palace,” noted Arsene Wenger. “I remember a period in 1998 when we had seven or eight players out and Gilles Grimandi scored our goal in a 1-0 win. And still nowadays we always have difficult battles and difficult games.
“I think Palace are basically out of trouble [after four wins in a row], but it's very difficult to predict. The fact that they lost again in midweek might have created some doubt maybe, but I think they should get out of it.
“It's another derby, and like West Ham they play not to go down. These teams gives absolutely everything to play against you, therefore we have to prepare again to be highly focused.”
‘EMI GIVES US SECURITY’
Here comes that theme again.
“It should be decided in the air,” said Emi Martinez ahead of tonight’s London derby. The Argentine is set to continue in goal and it’s a testament to how well he performed against West Ham that his inclusion seems to excite fans more than concern them.
Emi’s been lauded since his third clean sheet in four Premier League appearances and his manager has always been one of his biggest fans.
“He is a player who, first of all, is top, top quality,” said Wenger. “He has the basic qualities for a goalkeeper - he has the size, he has the power, he has the technical level because he has worked with us for a long time now.
“But also he has that kind of mental confidence and quietness, that security he gives out when he is in goal that makes you think 'it's normal that I am here. I'm not intermittent, I am here to stay here.' You feel that, and he gives a kind of security out that's very positive.
“Recently we have conceded goals, and I've always said it's a team problem, not a defender's problem. Before the West Ham game, knowing that Koscielny would not play, that Ospina and Cech would not play, being under pressure as well, I thought it could be a bit difficult, but overall we dealt with it very well and players like Martinez did very well.”
WHO STARTS UP FRONT?
At the other end of the pitch, the boss has to decide which permutation has the best chance of penetrating Palace.
Does Olivier Giroud have a case for a starting role? His impact off the bench has been phenomenal - a division-high five goals as a substitute this season - and he’s already hurt Palace this season with that sumptuous scorpion kick.
Add the Frenchman’s prowess in the air - in both penalty areas - and it must be tempting for Wenger to rotate his strikers tonight.
“It’s difficult to manage because the striking position is like the goalkeeper position: it demands a lot of confidence,” said the manager.
OP = Outfield Players
“When you have international players who cannot regularly contribute and play, it's difficult for them to deal with of course. But I must say they do extremely well and you have a lot of respect for people who come off the bench and give absolutely everything every time to score. Giroud has done that again against West Ham.
“He has been absolutely exceptional because [being effective from the bench] is a skill in itself. You have to analyse what's going on during the game and take advantage of your positioning. Positional play becomes very important.
“Also, to transform your frustration into motivation is a skill. You always have two options. You either feel sorry for yourself or you show the manager that it's not right that you don't start the game.”
IMPROVING THE MOOD
Whoever starts, there’s no doubt the manager and players are operating in a rather happier space after positive results against Manchester City and West Ham.
|Arsenal: Cazorla (plantaris), Koscielny (Achilles), Cech (calf), Lucas (thigh), Ospina (back)
Palace: Cabaye, Remy, Tomkins (all calf), Dann (knee), Campbell (hamstring), McArthur (back - doubt), Van Aanholt (ankle), Mandanda, Wickham (both knee), Souare (leg)
“Yes, I think the mood was already a bit better after the Man City game,” said Wenger. “The question mark was whether we could build on that and start to win games.
“Overall I would say you have an improvement of the mood as well when the quality of the game is there, and I felt the quality of what happened between the players during the [West Ham] game was very good, consistent and commitment-wise there was a good continuity from the Man City game.
“Overall it was a very serious and fluent game, when I watched it again. I must say the game was of quality.”
The big threat from West Ham was supposed to come from Andy Carroll. Nullify another aerial threat tonight and the mood could get even better.
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