Last updated & checked: 10/08/2021
Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off pits an Arsenal side that is improving under new boss Mikel Arteta against ninth-placed Crystal Palace. The hosts, who experienced a tricky festive season and were eliminated from the FA Cup at the first hurdle, are without a significant portion of their first-choice XI coming into this game, and would probably take a draw if it were offered right now.
Arsenal have won their last two games, albeit that those came against a Leeds side that dominated the first half at the Emirates, and against Manchester United. If Arteta can mastermind a comfortable victory against Palace here, Gunners fans may begin to believe that a corner is being turned after the unsatisfying, abortive term of previous boss Unai Emery.
Crystal Palace vs Arsenal Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-2 Arsenal
Under current boss Roy Hodgson, Palace have developed a reputation of being the type of side that is always tough to beat, but one which struggles to express itself in attack. Both of these things remain true, but with a squad stretched to near breaking point – and missing totemic midfielder Luka Milivojevic through suspension – they’ll find it hard to give the best account of themselves here. Arteta’s early steps as Gunners manager have encouraged his players to attack with confidence, and with a Palace side particularly thin in defence, this represents a great chance to pick up three points at a tricky opponent.
Our recommended tip: Draw/Arsenal HT/FT
When Arsenal were at their best, this is the kind of game that they may well have won without breaking stride, but the job of rebuilding confidence after several seasons of mediocrity is not an easy one – less still for a rookie manager. The way this match looks like going, it’s easy to see Hodgson keeping his side close with a solid tactical plan for an hour or more, but in the end the greater attacking bite on the visiting side should have enough to pick up three points. It’s 4/1 at 888sport for the Gunners to pick up a second-half winner, and that feels like a decent bet.
It’s not so long since these sides last met, with their league confrontation at the Emirates Stadium coming at the end of October and ending in a 2-2 draw. Arsenal took a comfortable early lead, with Sokratis and then David Luiz taking advantage of uncharacteristically poor Palace marking at corners to make it 2-0 within nine minutes. The visitors fought back, first through a Milivojevic penalty and then a Jordan Ayew header. The match was, in many ways, the beginning of the end for Emery’s regime at Arsenal.
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Players to watch: Wilfried Zaha & Granit Xhaka
While Palace are reduced to the bare bones in defence and shorn of much of their midfield, there is hope where there is Zaha. The gifted winger is often considered to be “slumming it” at Selhurst Park, but in truth there are few bigger clubs where he would get the same freedom to hit open spaces as he does for the Eagles. It was his direct running which won the penalty that kick-started Palace’s comeback the last time these sides met.
Speaking of that October evening, Xhaka will have more reason than any Arsenal player to want to put those memories to bed. Shortly after the hour mark, with the 2-0 lead already erased, the out-of-form Swiss midfielder – then club captain – was substituted. This Emery decision was met with rapturous cheers from a section of the Gunners support, leading to Xhaka sarcastically waving to the fans. At the time, it looked like it could be his final action as an Arsenal player, but he has thrived under Arteta, and a dynamic performance here could complete his recovery.