We’re back in Premier League action on Saturday when we host Crystal Palace at Emirates Stadium.
Ahead of the game, tactical expert Michael Cox and former Gunner Adrian Clarke examine our opponents in detail.
MC: Many Premier League clubs have benefited from the ‘new manager bounce’ this season, but none as much as Crystal Palace. The Eagles became the first side in top-flight history to not score in their first seven games of the season – the first four of which saw Frank De Boer in charge – and yet 16 matches later, they find themselves in 12th place under the management of Hodgson. They’ve lost just one of their last 12 matches, which was in the reverse fixture just after Christmas, when Arsenal recorded a 3-2 victory at Selhurst Park, and were a last-minute penalty kick away from defeating league leaders Manchester City on New Year’s Eve.
AC: Hodgson never goes hell for leather. It’s just not part of his DNA as a coach. He is first and foremost a pragmatist. He will set up to defend and counter, but he is not silly and he would have seen the teams that have got after Arsenal in recent weeks.
MC: For long periods this season Palace have played a 4-4-2, the formation Hodgson has become most associated with, although during Christian Benteke’s lengthy injury absence, the manager deployed natural wingers Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend as a strike duo, giving the side a more mobile, unpredictable feel. Hodgson has also experimented in terms of system – he played a 4-3-3 at home to Manchester City. In fact, last weekend’s 1-0 victory over Burnley was the first time this season he’s played a conventional 4-4-2 with two proper centre forwards, with Benteke joined by Bakary Sako, who scored the winner.
AC: The shape will be the most important thing, but when they turn over possession expect bodies to fly forward in numbers. Palace have the tools to create problems for Arsenal. Historically we’ve dealt well with Christian Benteke very well in recent years, ever since he came here with Aston Villa -it’s just those two flying wingers.
MC: Palace are an excellent counter-attacking side, breaking forward from their deep defensive position quickly.
MC: The key to Palace’s counter-attacking threat is the positioning of Zaha, who can be used up front, wide in a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. One of the Premier League’s star performers this year, his acceleration and trickery have proved difficult to stop.
AREAS TO TARGET
MC: Defensively, Palace are without Scott Dann, Mamadou Sakho and Joel Ward. Patrick van Aanholt and Jeffrey Schlupp are in competition – both are naturally attack-minded players and can leave space in behind.
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