Arsenal host Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Thursday. Here are 3 key battles.
Talk has emerged as to whether Arsenal have turned a corner in recent weeks. With three wins on the spin, and four overall, results and performances have undoubtedly improved, yet it’s far too soon to make such a judgement.
Securing victory over a Crystal Palace side who’ve not lost to the Gunners in their last four meetings would be another significant step towards determining whether the upturn in form is not short-lived.
Of course, the introduction of Emile Smith Rowe has been pivotal over the past four fixtures, and with him expected to retain his place against the Eagles, his say could continue the upward trajectory moving into the second half of the season.
He won’t be alone on that pitch though, as there are ten other players who Mikel Arteta will choose that will need to play their part in seeing off Roy Hodgson’s men. Palace’s dangers are clear throughout, and there are three key battles that could help decide the outcome on Thursday evening.
Alexandre Lacazette vs Cheikhou Kouyaté
There will be late fitness tests for both Gary Cahill and Scott Dann, who missed their FA Cup clash with Wolves. Even if one or both of the pair were to be deemed available, Cheikhou Kouyaté is still expected to get the nod in the heart of defence.
The makeshift centre-back has been an ever-present for the Eagles this season in his withdrawn role, where his height has been a welcome addition.
Kouyaté dwarfs Alexandre Lacazette by comparison, and his physical attributes will also pose an issue. Palace are a side who like to get touch-tight in defence, giving them the platform to win their individual battles and spring into counter-attacks in the blink of an eye.
By drawing Kouyaté – who isn’t fast – into areas of danger, the Frenchman can open up spaces for deeper runners such as Smith Rowe to exploit in and around the penalty area. As the most physical of Arsenal’s centre-forwards, and unique in his skillset, keeping the central defenders busy throughout will be crucial ensuring the creative players have space to operate in.