Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Crystal Palace

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, January 1
11:00 a.m. EST, 16:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Andre Marriner
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Scott Ledger
    • 4th Official: Stuart Attwell
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 1 Crystal Palace
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 25 Arsenal wins, 3 Crystal Palace wins, 11 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-L-L-W
  • Crystal Palace's League Form: L-W-D-L-L-D
Well, when this match is completed, we'll be at the halfway point of the season. 19 matches completed apiece and everyone will have played everyone else once. When you compare their results from this season against the corresponding results from last season, Arsenal are plus-4 this year. And, since this match was a draw last season, they could end the first half of the year plus-6 as compared to last year's pace with a win on Sunday.

That sounds so ideal, considering Arsenal finished last season 10 points behind the champions. And yet, here we are, in fourth again.

So, what's the problem? Well, if Arsenal win Sunday, then duplicate their first half results for the second half, they'll finish with 80 points. Chelsea, however, are on pace for 98. And while they likely won't keep winning at the same torrid pace at which they are winning right now, you have to think that the title winners are going to be closer to 90 points this year, as opposed to Leicester's 81 last year.

The unbeaten run of autumn was nice, but it's a distant memory now. And draws are not enough. Arsenal have to start winning more consistently immediately, otherwise it'll be another year scratching and clawing for the Champions League places in May.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gibbs (knee,) Walcott (calf,) Debuchy (hamstring,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring,) Ramsey (hamstring,) Mertesacker (match fitness,) Welbeck (match fitness)

Shkodran Mustafi is back in the squad and available for selection again after missing the last three matches with a hamstring injury he picked up against Stoke. As a bit of a back-line tradeoff, Kieran Gibbs is out after injuring his knee against West Brom on Boxing Day. There's a bit of inflammation, which makes it hard to assess a timetable, but Arsène Wenger sounded hopeful that it will not be long-term.

Theo Walcott is expected to miss out with the calf injury he may or may not have picked up with his new coffee maker on Christmas morning. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who hurt his hamstring off the bench at Manchester City two weeks ago, remains doubtful. The Ox is expected to take part in full training on Saturday, however. With Theo still out and Ox a doubt, I would think Olivier Giroud retains his spot up top; I think his winner on Monday has earned him that, too.

In good news, we've been able to move Per Mertesacker and Danny Welbeck into the "match fitness doubts" category as their long-term injury periods come to a close.

After this match, Mohamed Elneny will join up with Egypt for the Africa Cup of Nations, meaning he'll be unavailable for Arsenal's following four fixtures, at least.

There could be some rotation for this match, of course, as Arsenal will travel to Bournemouth to play again on Tuesday.

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Xhaka, Iwobi, Alexis, Özil, Giroud.

Crystal Palace Squad News

Out: Souaré (thigh,) J. Benteke (knee,) Wickham (knee,) Mandanda (knee,) Tomkins (groin,) Sako (knock)
Doubts: Rémy (calf,) McCarthy (knock,) Ledley (knock)
Suspended: Delaney (one match, accumulation)

Disgraced England manager Sam Allardyce, who took over for the sacked Alan Pardew on December 23, will have to sweat on his squad's fitness, as Palace could be without as many as 10 players for their trip to North London. Center back Damien Delaney, who scored an own goal for Arsenal last year, picked up his fifth booking of the year on Boxing Day and will have to sit this one out for accumulation. This does not help Palace's depleted back line; they've been without left back Pape Souaré since September when he injured his thigh and jawbone in a car accident. Without Delaney, Zeki Fryers might have to deputize.

Palace lost both James McCarthy and Joe Ledley to knocks on Boxing Day against West Ham and both are firmly in the doubts column to return. If they don't, Mathieu Flamini could make his first ever competitive start against his former club.

Connor Wickham is out for the year with a knee injury, while the likes of James Tomkins, Steve Mandanda, Bakary Sako, and Loïc Rémy (remember him? He's on loan from Chelsea...) are all likely out until mid-January. Christian Benteke's younger brother Jonathan will be out with a meniscus injury, but he himself will be fine to start up top.

Predicted XI: Hennessey, Kelly, Dann, Fryers, Ward, Cabaye, Flamini, Townsend, Zaha, Puncheon, C. Benteke.

Current Form

Arsenal's win over West Brom helped avoid turning a two-match losing streak into a three-match losing streak, which would have been their first since January of 2012. But aside from that bit of information, there's not much to talk about in terms of Arsenal's form. The unbeaten run ended across all competitions on November 30 and it ended in the league on December 13. How about getting a winning streak going? Especially as it looks like Chelsea will tie and possibly break Arsenal's record of consecutive league wins, which was set in 2002.

So, let's talk about Crystal Palace. Palace's season started with losses to West Brom and Tottenham, but from there, the Eagles were unbeaten in five, including a three match winning run. While they were eliminated from the League Cup by Southampton in the third round, they were sitting seventh in the table at the end of September.

Since then, they have tumbled 10 places in the table. After that high point at the end of September, Palace lost six straight in the league, including allowing two injury time goals to turn a win into a loss against relegation fodder Swansea, before they beat Southampton 3-0 to snap the losing streak. They're winless in four since that win, however, and are now two points clear of relegation themselves.

On December 22, Alan Pardew was sacked and replaced by Sam Allardyce. Palace blew a 1-0 lead to draw 1-1 with Watford in Allardyce's first match in charge of the Eagles on Boxing Day.

Match Facts

Prior to this fixture last season, Arsenal had won all five matches with Crystal Palace since the Eagles' promotion to the Premier League in 2013. Then, when the clubs met at the Emirates on April 17, Arsenal dominated the entirety of the match, led 1-0 through an Alexis Sánchez goal just before halftime, then conceded against the run of play to Yannick Bolasie in the 80th minute, and settled for an idiotic 1-1 draw. Arsenal had 72% of the possession and took 21 shots, but again, it's goals that win football matches.

Arsenal won at Selhurst Park last year, 2-1 in what had been the second match of the season. After the Gunners lost 2-0 on opening day to West Ham, Olivier Giroud notched Arsenal's first goal of the season on 16 minutes. Arsenal's lead lasted only a dozen minutes as Joel Ward scored from long distance to equalize for Palace. Arsenal took the lead on 55 minutes when an Alexis header was turned into the net by Damien Delaney.

Crystal Palace have beaten Arsenal only three times in 38 all-time meetings; two of their three wins came at Highbury, one in 1970 in the League Cup and the other in 1994. Overall, Arsenal are unbeaten in 14 against the Eagles, winning nine of them.

The Referee

The referee is West Midlands-based Andre Marriner. I know what you're thinking: "It's that guy who did that thing that time!" That's right, you know the thing. I don't even need to clarify it. That thing that time.

Arsenal have lost only one of their seven matches with Marriner since that thing that time, winning five straight over Southampton, Everton, Newcastle, Tottenham, and Manchester City. After that, they had Marriner for their FA Cup loss to Watford last season and their come-from-behind 1-1 draw at Old Trafford back in November.

Crystal Palace have only had Marriner once this season, for their 4-2 loss to Liverpool in October. Last year, the only Palace match Marriner worked was also a home loss against Liverpool. Palace's last win with Marriner came 2-1 at Stoke on March 21, 2015.

Around the League
  • Friday (night): Hull City v. Everton; KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Burnley v. Sunderland; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Stoke City; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. West Ham United; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Manchester United v. Middlesbrough; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Southampton v. West Bromwich Albion; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Bournemouth; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday (late): Liverpool v. Manchester City; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday (early): Watford v. Tottenham Hotspur; Vicarage Road, Watford

John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a jazz pioneer. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for zoobop-ba-dop-bop-jazz.