We have won our last two games against Crystal Palace but they have been anything but straight forward victories so we will need to be at our best this afternoon in South London. On match day one a stuttering Arsenal found it difficult to breakdown a stubborn Keith Millen managed team. It took a late Aaron Ramsey goal in stoppage time to snatch a 2-1 victory.
That day we lacked so much of what we see for the most part these days. Our passing was slow, we lacked movement and intensity. I watched a bit of that game before writing this and it is little wonder why we struggled in the attacking end of the pitch back in August.
It is quite amazing seeing just how much a team changes and evolves over the course of a season. On August 16th we were without Mertesacker, Özil and Walcott. So we started with Yaya Sanogo leading the line as Danny Welbeck was still contracted to Manchester United at the time and Oliver Giroud was still searching for fitness post the world cup.
Crystal Palace have also had a season of evolving since that day. Neil Warnock has come and gone before today and instead we face Arsène's old 'buddy' Alan Pardew, although there seems to be a tad more respect between the two managers these days.
It's been a bit of a mixed bag for Pardew since arriving at his former club. Four straight wins were followed by two home defeats to the Merseysiders in their last four games.
We will have to work hard defensively when we are not in possession because they have a number of quick players who can cause problems for a team pushed high up the pitch. Which I fully expect us to be in light of both our performance in the cup and Walcott's recent comments.
Jason Puncheon, Yannick Bolasie, Fraizer Campbell, Wilfried Zaha and a few others can pose problems if we allow them space to run into.
For us, I am eager to know whether or not Arsène will stick to his rather attack heavy looking team that swatted away Middlesbrough last weekend. Given the limited amount of options in midfield, I'd imagine he will. The only player available who Arsène would realistically turn to make our midfield defensively stronger is Mathieu Flamini. Which would mean switching Özil back out wide in place of Welbeck and then pushing Cazorla into a role either alongside Coquelin or just ahead of him depending on the system. I don't see that happening in this game.
So I expect Cazorla and Özil to remain as number 8 and 10 respectively. So I suspect that the only decision will be who plays on the opposite flank to Alexis Sanchez. Danny Welbeck was the preferred option last weekend and if Arsène wants a player who will work harder to put pressure on the ball when we haven't got it then he'll get the nod. But I'm going with the runs and finishing of Walcott today. Welbeck may be saved for Monaco at the Emirates. or I could be making this all up.
If Hector Bellerin is fit then he'll come back in, he was training yesterday so I'd imagine he is ok. I'd personally stick with Kieran Gibbs for this one given the extra pace he has but I think Monreal will continue to be rewarded for his consistency this season. At least he has Koscielny on that side should he get isolated one on one against pace. I also expect Mertesacker to return to the starting line up after sitting out the last game. Gabriel starting again would be a huge call but I don't see that happening.
Mean Lean's Predicted Line Up:
Jack Wilshere should take his place on the bench after having his ankle kicked in by Manchester United months ago. He won't be thrown back into the starting 11, you can be sure of that but it will be interesting to see how he looks should he make it off the bench.
In the other fixtures Southampton face Liverpool on the Sunday. The draw looks the best result for us. Tottenham face West Ham at home and the Hammers are not in the best of shape of late. While Manchester United face Swansea City away. Can't believe we lost to Swansea earlier in the manner we did. Grrr.
Let's just do what we need to do. Confidence should be pretty high after our display last weekend. We thrive off playing well so hopefully that is a good base for an important few weeks ahead.
I'm backing Alexis to get his groove back today. It's been a while since he was our best player thanks to the impressive form of one Santi Cazorla but Alexis cannot be kept down for too long and I'm backing him to cause Palace all sorts of problems this afternoon. First goalscorer and man of the match perhaps?
Who cares, let's just win.
If you are on Twitter and fancy taking part in answering some questions after the game then drop me a mail here and just leave your Twitter handle and I'll get back to you if the slots are not all taken.
Check back tonight and tomorrow for some post match stuff.
COME ON ARSENAL!