Arsenal v Crystal Palace

Scouting Report - Crystal Palace

Before every Arsenal fixture, we'll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners' next opponents.

Arsene Wenger's side host an in-form Crystal Palace on Sunday, to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Richard Cawley. 

Tony Pulis' rudimentary, old-fashioned football philosophy hasn’t exactly endeared him to Arsenal supporters, but the former Stoke City manager has worked wonders since taking charge of Crystal Palace in late November.

The clearest improvement is his side’s defensive understanding, a huge area of weakness under predecessor Ian Holloway. The team is defending excellently as a unit, with the midfield quartet getting back behind the ball and protecting the defence, with obvious results: having failed to keep a clean sheet in Holloway’s eight games, Palace have now kept seven in their last 13.

"Expect Palace to line up in a 4-4-1-1 system, although Pulis surprisingly switched to a back three midway through the midweek victory over Hull"

Michael Cox

Palace’s focus upon defence is both a consequence and a cause of their inability to control the midfield battle. They average 40 per cent of possession and have a 72 per cent pass completion rate, both the lowest rates in the league. This isn’t an issue for Pulis, however, who has always insisted upon long balls and breaking quickly down the flanks, rather than building up play gradually.

The real problem is a lack of goals: Palace are the division’s lowest scorers, and have managed just five in 11 away matches.

Expect Palace to line up in a 4-4-1-1 system, although Pulis surprisingly switched to a back three midway through the midweek victory over Hull.

The centre-back combination of Danny Gabbidon and Damien Delaney has remained intact for the majority of the campaign. Both are decent in the air but slow on the turn, and uncomfortable with the ball at their feet - Delaney, in particular, concedes possession regularly.

If the Eagles are to frustrate Arsenal, Australian central midfielder Mile Jedinak will play an important role. An all-action destroyer, he leads the Premier League’s combined tackle and assist statistics, and helps his centre backs in the air. Midfield partner Joel Ward, sometimes used at full back, is also busy but neater in possession, capable of dribbling forward into attack, and he also delivers dangerous corners from the left.

Out wide, Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie are first choices. Puncheon has proved vital despite an embarrassing recent penalty miss against Tottenham, using the ball more reliably than the majority of his team-mates, and cutting inside into goalscoring positions to find the net three times in his last four games.

Pulis prefers to play with two strikers. One is a familiar face, Marouane Chamakh, who spends much of his time challenging for long balls, but also drops deeper to play a link role behind Cameron Jerome, who played under Pulis at Stoke.

Chamakh has also been very disciplined defensively, and will drop onto Mikel Arteta when Palace don't have the ball.

The mood at the club is very good at present. In terms of the way that the team is playing, there's been a huge turnaround in form from earlier in the season. They beat Hull in midweek and have done the double over them now. When they played Hull away in November, they only had four points before the match and were rock bottom of the table. Since then, they've taken 19 points from 11 games and are now 14th in the league. They've not been higher than that since August, when the league table was at quite an embryonic stage.

Tony Pulis has done a fantastic job in terms of pulling the squad together and making them particularly difficult to beat. One of the central reasons for that is they don't concede many goals. They've got one of the best defensive records in the league from the point of Tony Pulis coming in. They've been to Manchester City, where they only conceded once, and Chelsea, where they only lost by a goal. They've had some good performances at teams that are normally difficult to go to.

"Tony Pulis has done a fantastic job in terms of pulling the squad together and making them particularly difficult to beat"

Richard Cawley

If I'm honest, I am a bit surprised with the speed of the turnaround since Pulis became manager. It was difficult to see how they were going to turn things around earlier in the season, because they had a poor start and were shipping a few goals in games as well. I think that what Tony Pulis has done is get the team tremendously organised. They don't tend to dominate possession but it hasn't really made much difference because they've kept things tight defensively and they do create chances in games.

Even at Manchester City, the hosts had a lot of the ball but found it very difficult to break through, and in fact Joe Hart probably made the bigger saves. Crystal Palace do have a system in which they create chances and win games. It's been a surprise how quickly Pulis has addressed that and he's done it (at the time of writing) without anybody coming in. He's used the existing squad that was there and he's done a fantastic job so far.

Mile Jedinak is one of the key men in midfield. If anything happened to him injury-wise, you'd be worried about what the impact would be because he is so influential in the centre. Marouane Chamakh has proved to be a decent signing as well. He hasn't been blessed with a lot of chances but if you look at his conversion rate, it's very good. He's led the line well and works incredibly hard. He's taken on board the work ethic that Tony Pulis demands of his players. He's done well, as has Jason Puncheon in recent weeks. He got a lot of criticism for his penalty miss at Tottenham but since then he has scored the winner against Hull and Stoke.

I imagine on Sunday Palace will do what they've done when they've gone to the bigger clubs and will make sure they get people back. They tend to play fairly deep and don't give too much space between the midfield and the defence for teams to get in behind them. I think it will be tight. Under Tony Pulis, Palace haven't really been opened up by anybody, except for Newcastle at home. Arsenal will be the favourites but I think Palace will give them a decent game.

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