Arsenal v Crystal Palace | Thursday 14th January 2021, 20:00 | Sky Sports
Football’s a funny old game. Just three days before Christmas the pressure was mounting on Mikel Arteta after Arsenal’s League Cup exit which made it eight domestic games without a win.
Since then, the Gunners have picked up nine points in the league, scoring eight, plus on Saturday they progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup after their extra-time win over Newcastle.
It’s seen them climb to 11th in the table with them looking up rather than over their shoulders.
Crystal Palace exited the FA Cup against Wolves last Friday, but they did start the year with a league win. The 2-0 victory over Sheffield United stopped a mini-slump, which had seen them go winless for five games.
But Roy Hodgson is dealing with off the field issues surrounding the pandemic. After Luka Milivojević’s New Year shenanigans, it was the turn of Eberechi Eze to test the manager’s resolve with his appearance at QPR v Fulham on Saturday, which the FA are now also investigating.
Hodgson is likely to include Eze in his matchday squad, although a start is likely to depend on the fitness of Jeffrey Schlupp, who went off injured against Sheffield Utd. Meanwhile, Gary Cahill and Scott Dann are both to be assessed.
The firing young guns
Despite a turbulent time, Mikel Arteta hasn’t been afraid to give the youngsters a chance to shine. It’s safe to say that they’ve shone.
Emile Smith Rowe has been a breath of fresh air. He’s registered two assists in 231 minutes of top-flight action, adding to his two Europa League assists. In this number 10 position, in behind Alexandre Lacazette, he’ll continue to flourish.
Bukayo Saka has continued to grow with more frequent game time. No Arsenal player has had more shots in the league than the 19-year-old (34). And in 11 of 15, he’s had at least two.
He’s also got the highest number of shot-creating actions (43) for the Gunners, while also having four goal-creating actions. He’s a direct, agile player, who has 14 carries into the area, which causes opposing defenders all sorts of issues.
With the low defensive block Palace are more than likely to employ it could be one of this nimble, quick youngsters who find the holes within the Eagles defence.
Those two stand out, but it’s hard to ignore the contribution of Kieran Tierney. He scored his second Premier League goal in their easy win at West Brom.
The Scotland international marauds forward, helping to create overloads down the left. And part of his attacking nature does occasionally help to pin back opposing players.
With Arteta liking his side to cross the ball, it’s slightly surprising to see just one assist despite 63 crosses this season. He’s a player I did consider looking towards in the assist market, especially if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leads the line – the best price I could see was 18/5 with Pokerstars.
The betting angles
Both teams to score is just shy of even-money and it’s an angle I like here. Palace have the capability of posing plenty of problems for this Arsenal defence – the pace and guile of Zaha and Eze, plus the height, strength and controlled aggression of Benteke.
This will be the seventh league game for Hodgson in charge of Palace against Arsenal – all of the previous six have seen both teams scoring with the Gunners scoring 14 to Palace’s 11.
Five of those previous six have gone over 2.5 goals as well, it was just the last time the sides met, back in January, which finished 1-1.
Even though head-to-head data isn’t the strongest reason for a bet, this Opta stat points to Arsenal being vulnerable here at the Emirates:
Arsenal have conceded at least once in each of their last 11 Premier League home games – they last had a longer run without a home clean sheet between October 1983 and August 1984 (18 games) – a gem.
Many will say Palace lack that cutting edge and don’t create enough sights of their opponents’ goal. But the Infogol expected goals (xG) has them at 1.14xG per game – slightly better than Wolves and Southampton.
Even if you’re of that train of thought then Palace average roughly the same shots on target per 90 as the Gunners – Palace average 3.71 to Arsenal’s 3.76, so nothing to choose between them in that sense.
We’ve seen in the past how they like to beat the bigger teams on their turf – their 3-1 win at Old Trafford in September and picking up four points from their last two visits to the Etihad – so I’ll take the price on BTTS.
I also did some digging to see who and what positions pick up bookings against Crystal Palace, especially when considering the way Hodgson will set this side up to absorb pressure and hit on the break.
Central midfielders accounted for 12 cautions, while right-backs/right wing-backs had five cards and that’s an area the Eagles could well exploit.
That defensive mentality and a quick pounce in the turnover with the likes of Zaha and Eze makes those wide areas even more important for a side like Palace; crossing the ball into a rejuvenated Christian Benteke.
It’s understandable why right-sided defenders like Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Kyle Walker-Peters, César Azpilicueta, Matt Lowton and, more recently, Jayden Bogle have all seen cards against the Eagles.
The reason for that is quite obvious – 42% of their attacks come down their left flank bringing the opposition right-back into the game for tackles and cards.
Lo and behold the most cautioned player in the Premier League also happens to be Arsenal’s right-back – Héctor Bellerín. So, 9/2 to be carded with various firms looks too good to ignore.
Zaha and Eze both rank in the top-10 for fouls drawn, while Eze is ninth and Zaha 15th for attempted dribbles, everything you’d expect from the pair. It just adds to the appeal on the Bellerín price.
I did also consider tackles considering the high volume right-backs generally make v Palace, however, having reviewed Bellerín’s numbers, I’m slightly perturbed, so I’ll take these two punts.