The Breakdown

The Breakdown: Palace v Arsenal preview

We’re back in Premier League action on Thursday when we travel to Selhurst Park to take on Crystal Palace.

Ahead of the game, tactical expert Michael Cox and former Gunner Adrian Clarke examine our opponents in detail.


MC: Roy Hodgson’s England spell ended with the infamous defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016, but he’s consistently proved successful with midtable Premier League clubs, taking Fulham from the brink of relegation to the Europa League final, and also impressing at West Brom. His impact at Crystal Palace has been remarkable – he took charge when they’d lost every game and were cut adrift at the bottom, but they’re now on their longest Premier League unbeaten run and out of the dropzone.

AC: He’s a bit of a slow burner but he’s been a manager for this long for a reason. He knows what he’s doing and he can organise a team. He keeps things very simple and there’s nothing too complicated about his tactical awareness, but he gets it right.


MC: Hodgson experimented with formations as England manager, but with Crystal Palace has largely stuck to his tried-and-tested 4-4-2 system. This previously featured two wingers playing up front, in Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha, but the return of Christian Benteke from injury means the Eagles can play with a more traditional targetman.

AC: What I was really impressed with was when Hodgson was without Christian Benteke and he put two wingers up top in Wilf Zaha and Andros Townsend. Not a lot of managers would have done that but it worked. It got them out of their rut, everyone was suddenly very excited to watch Palace and enthusiasm returned. Since then, the team has definitely gone on an upward curve. Palace, out of everyone in the bottom section, are playing the best football right now.


MC: Hodgson has improved Palace at both ends. Defensively they play in a traditional, solid shape having failed to grasp Frank De Boer’s more cultured methods, and in an attacking sense they break forward quickly to exploit any weaknesses in the opposition’s defence.


MC: Zaha is in superb form, whether fielded up front or on the flanks. He recently assisted James McArthur’s last-minute winner against Watford in hugely impressive circumstances – after moving to the left, Watford manager Marco Silva introduced Kiko Femenia to play as a second right-back in front of Daryl Janmaat, such was Zaha’s threat. But the wingers dribbled past both to set up McArthur, showing that even ‘doubling up’ against him isn’t always successful.


MC: Goalkeeper Julian Speroni is a genuine Palace legend, having played more than 400 times for the club. But at 38 he’s not the most mobile goalkeeper around, and should be regularly tested here.

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