Eye On The Opposition: Crystal Palace vs Arsenal (28/12/2017)

Written by Jack Pierce

Put down that turkey sandwich, tell your uncle you'll have to hear that story another time and stop watching films you've seen multiple times before. Christmas football is finally here for us.

Our now non-Boxing Day fixture is Arsenal at Selhurst and after what happened last time they visited SE25, there is an air of excitement among the Palace faithful. The 3-0 win in front of the TV cameras back in April was a joyous evening for all of those in attendance. Anything like that this time around and we might have a festive cheer overload on our hands. Arsenal visit after just one win in their last five league matches. They need a win on Thursday night as much as we do and anything other than that will leave them lagging behind in the race for a top four place and a return to the Champions League.

Arsenal's last fixture was the very-enjoyable-for-the-neutral 3-3 draw against Liverpool. There was a ten minute period of the second half that illustrated why those of us who regularly attend football matches do exactly that. It was brilliant; Arsenal went from 2-0 to a goal up in six minutes, only to concede again and see Liverpool take a point away from The Emirates. The passage of play highlighted the two areas we all associate with Arsenal - absolutely fantastic when going forward and desperately fragile defensively. They'll need more of the former if they're to challenge for one of those top four places come May.

As January approaches, so does the increase of talk about potential exits from the club. It's no secret that both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are out of contract next summer and both have their suitors. It's likely one, if not both, will leave the club next summer but there is speculation that Arsenal should expect bids during January. There appears more hope in keeping Ozil and his suitors don't seem as vocal as Sanchez's which may explain why there is speculation that clubs, Manchester City among them, will submit bids for the Chilean international next month. Given that clubs are unlikely to bid anything like they would have done last summer for Sanchez, it seems unlikely that Arsenal would sell, as with the attacker within the club's ranks, they could achieve their aim of returning to Europe's top table be it via the league or, as Manchester United did last season, as winners of the Europa League.

That said, you and I can still expect day after day of tabloid nonsense being shoved our way.

It's a big game for both sides. Arsenal, as ever, are just one game away from a crisis and really need a win. As for Palace, after the results of others preceding this fixture, a win would be a step to get some breathing space from the drop zone.

Key players

Petr Cech

A man whose signing it was hoped would bring about a change in Arsenal's fortunes hasn't had the impact Gunners' fans had hoped. An absolute man mountain at his imperious best when at Chelsea, Cech hasn't quite commanded the authority he had when across London.

That said, he does still offer a valuable contribution and has won his side points when other goalkeepers might not have.

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Granit Xhaka

An often maligned member of the Arsenal playing staff, stats indicate that Xhaka is in fact one of the better performing midfielders in the division. He did struggle in his first season in England and does still show signs of struggling in big games but his manager clearly trusts him.

As shown against Liverpool, he does have a fondness for shooting from distance. Presumably, Arsenal fans often see his efforts zoom beyond the goal but as Simon Mignolet perfectly demonstrated on Friday night, not all goalkeepers deal with shots as they should.

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Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal fans should savour the Chilean while he still wears their shirt. He's been magnificent for the club since joining in 2014 and his goals to game record is brilliant. Happy to play centrally or impact the game from wide, Sanchez is a threat to every defence he faces.

Whether he leaves in the next month, or more likely, next summer, Sanchez will have options of where to head next.

Get your chequebook out, Steve!

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