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The Big Match Tactical View: Crystal Palace v Arsenal

Jack Wilshere may start for Arsenal tonight but Roy Hodgson's Crystal Palace are on an unbeaten run and could surprise
Jack Wilshere may start for Arsenal tonight but Roy Hodgson's Crystal Palace are on an unbeaten run and could surprise
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Crystal Palace thrashed Arsenal 3-0 in this fixture last season - can they cause another upset?

"Palace are unbeaten in eight matches - their longest-ever run without a defeat in the Premier League - and aren't conceding many goals."

Crystal Palace v Arsenal
Thursday, 20:00
Live on Sky Sports 1

Match Odds: Crystal Palace [4.6], Arsenal [1.85], The Draw [4.1].

Palace aiming for another upset

The games are coming thick and fast over the Christmas period - but these two sides have benefited from plenty of rest while others have been in action, and this should result in a relatively lively game, with two sets of fresh players.

Arsenal start as strong favourites, but Palace offer defensive structure and counter-attacking speed, which could prove a perfect recipe for causing problems here. Arsenal won't relish this fixture - their performance at Selhurst Park last season was disastrous, a 3-0 defeat which prompted Arsene Wenger to turn to a three-man defence for the first time in 20 years. He's now scrapped that system and returned to a flat back four, incidentally - although has a couple of major question marks in his backline.

The first involves Nacho Monreal, who limped out of Arsenal's 3-3 draw with Liverpool on Friday. He's often playing on the left of the centre-back pairing rather than his traditional left-back slot, so Shkodran Mustafi is likely to play alongside Laurent Koscielny here.

That doesn't end the questions, because Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been playing out of position at left-back but Wenger will surely re-introduce Sead Kolasinac into the first team at some stage. This game, against a physical Crystal Palace side who may threaten from set-pieces, could be the game for Kolasinac to start.

Arsenal will dominate possession

In midfield Wenger will presumably continue with a trio of left-footers. Granit Xhaka plays the defensive role, Jack Wilshere offers more at transitions, while Mesut Ozil has tucked into a slightly deeper role than he's been accustomed to, and will attempt to provide the creativity from deep.

With Olivier Giroud still out, Alex Lacazette will spearhead the side, with Alexis Sanchez on the left and either Danny Welbeck or Alex Iwobi from the right. It's a quick, mobile front three that offers plenty of counter-attacking potential, so Roy Hodgson will be particularly keen for his players to sit deep here.

Palace are unbeaten in eight matches - their longest-ever run without a defeat in the Premier League - and aren't conceding many goals. Four concessions in the last six games, albeit against poor opposition, suggests Arsenal won't create too many clear-cut chances.

Scott Dann and James Tomkins will play close to the edge of their own box, with Martin Kelly and Jeffrey Schlupp tucking inside to concede space on the outside, but prevents Arsenal's wide players from running through gaps in behind.

Palace to pack the centre

The central midfield combination of Yohan Cabaye and Luka Milivojevic offers plenty of technical quality - but also a combative edge, and that's likely to be more obvious here tonight. Getting tight to Ozil, in particular, will be a priority.

Andros Townsend, a proper winger, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, more of a central midfielder, will play the wide roles. Expect Palace to be very narrow in this zone without possession, which means Arsenal right-back Hector Bellerin is likely to find plenty of space on the overlap.

Upfront, Christian Benteke will return from suspension to lead the line. He'll be a threat at set-pieces, but the main danger will come from the in-form Wilfried Zaha, who has the speed and trickery to cause real problems when breaking directly at Arsenal's backline.

Arsenal's defence looked very, very poor against Liverpool - they continually got themselves into poor positions to defend quick breaks, with particular confusion in their left-back zone. If Zaha and Townsend can receive the ball on the run in the channels, I think Palace can cause real problems here, so I'll back a surprise Palace victory at [4.6], which seems rather generous.


The Betfair Trader's View - Alan Thompson

Arsenal fought back from two down to lead 3-2 against Liverpool at the Emirates last week in an incredible second half. Ultimately, I thought the draw flattered the Gunners though and a fairer result for me would have been a Liverpool victory.

Results couldn’t have gone much better for Crystal Palace on Boxing Day, and a win here could see them climb above the likes of Newcastle, Stoke and Southampton. Further good news for Palace is Christian Benteke has served his one match ban and can return to the side after missing the Swansea draw.

There have been over 2.5 goals in Palace’s last six games at Selhurst Park (Palace have scored exactly two goals in each of those games) and the last three renewals of this fixture have also produced a result over 2.5 goals. After three successive wins at Selhurst Park, Arsenal lost 3-0 here last season, a game the effectively put an end to their top four aspirations.

In the Match Odds I think Arsenal are too short at [1.87] and wouldn’t put anyone off laying them but I think the goals markets may offer better opportunities today. While I think both teams will score, unfortunately so will the market I expect to see it settle about [1.65] which is about where it should be. I will be splitting my stake backing Over 3.5 Goals at anything better than [2.7] before kick-off and then placing a keep bet on Over 2.5 Goals to get matched in running at [2.0] should it reach that mark.

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