Scouting Report: Arsenal v Palace

Iwobi v Crystal Palace

We are back in Premier League action against Crystal Palace on Sunday, and ahead of the game tactical expert Michael Cox analyses our opponents.


Crystal Palace have endured a difficult 2016/17 so far, but their away performances have been better than their displays at Selhurst Park, and they have the personnel to frustrate their opponents. Arsenal are likely to encounter a deep, well-organised Palace side who make it difficult to play through balls in behind.


Palace have lined up in 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations this season, and against Manchester United played 4-4-2 with Wilfried Zaha up front. That left Michael Carrick free in midfield to dictate play, and Sam Allardyce favoured a more solid-looking 4-2-3-1 in the draw at Watford. It will be interesting to see if he employs the same approach at the Emirates.

In midfield, Alan Pardew tended to use three players. While former Gunner Mathieu Flamini started Allardyce's first game in charge at Watford on Boxing Day, he had previously lost out to a combination of James McArthur, Joe Ledley and Yohan Cabaye. The most talented of the trio is clearly Cabaye, who can be used either as a deep-lying playmaker or in a No 10 position, but McArthur and Ledley are both intelligent tactically and capable of providing clever passes. Ledley is calm and reliable in possession, while McArthur's newfound ability to storm forward into goalscoring positions is very useful - he's contributed five goals this season, already his best-ever Premier League return.


Palace's attack is based almost entirely around record signing Christian Benteke, who is winning nine aerial battles per game - by far the best rate in the Premier League. Although the Belgian was considered underwhelming at Liverpool, his minutes-per-goal ratio was always very good, and he's thriving in a side that plays with two outright wingers, rather than a team who were about quick passing combinations and aggressive pressing from the front.

However, in the 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on December 17 it was notable that while Benteke won plenty of aerial battles - largely by placing himself up against Cesar Azpilicueta - the wingers offered him little close support and generally stayed wide. Nevertheless, they're perfectly capable of servicing him with crosses.


Wilfried Zaha has been excellent this season - only Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne has provided more Premier League assists - although Andros Townsend
has been less consistent and has a frustrating tendency to shoot rather than cross. Lee Chung-Yong might be favoured on the left because he can play a good defensive role against Hector Bellerin, while Jason Puncheon is another option and tucks inside more.


Palace's defensive record this season is surprisingly poor. Scott Dann and Damien Delaney have often defended well in open play - although the latter is suspended for this game - while full backs Joel Ward and Martin Kelly tuck in narrow, protecting the centre backs closely.

But under Alan Pardew, they showed a complete inability to cope with set-piece deliveries. In an astonishing 5-4 loss at Swansea last month, Palace conceded no fewer than four goals from set pieces, and shipped another in the recent 2-1 defeat to Manchester United. Arsenal aren't generally renowned for their set-piece threat, but this is clearly the Eagles’ major weakness.


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