Arsenal will need to be mindful of the threat posed by Crystal Palace as they arrive at the Emirates on Sunday with nothing to lose.
The Eagles are far enough clear of the relegation scrap that they can afford a free shot at an Arsenal side which finds itself caught between chasing Tottenham and avoiding both Manchester clubs below them.
Ahead of the match, a look through the two sides’ statistics throws up a few unexpected results – and a few entirely expected ones – which will be worth bearing in mind as the teams go head-to-head on Sunday.
With the pace and trickery of Wilfred Zaha and Yannick Bolasie, and the creative talents of one-time Arsenal target Yohan Cabaye in midfield, you would expect Palace to have been full of running this season and looking for opportunities to exploit space in behind defences with runners from deep.
The statistics suggest, however, that the Eagles have been much more about set plays, crosses, and headed goals – in the Premier League at least.
Alan Pardew’s side have scored 35 goals in 33 league matches this season.
Of those 35, three goals have come from crosses – roughly nine per cent of Palace’s total haul.This is greater than the overwhelming majority of teams around them and, in the bottom half of the table, is a total bettered only by Sunderland – who have scored roughly 14 per cent of their 36 goals from crosses.
Palace have averaged 26 crosses per game this season – compared to Arsenal’s 20.
A large proportion of goals from set pieces is, more often than not, indicative of a team that likes to get the ball into the box and challenge, and it seems Palace have been exceptionally good at it this season.
Some 17 of their 35 league goals have come from set plays – roughly 49 per cent – by far the most among teams in the bottom half of the table.
Though Palace haven’t scored as many headed goals as Arsenal this season (we have 10 to their 7) – a statistic that certainly raised my eyebrows – the percentage of Palace goals scored from headers is higher than the Gunners (20 to Arsenal’s 18)
Finally, Pardew’s charges have also notched up 10 goals from corners – an area in which they once again stand above the rest of the teams in the bottom half of the table – even the one-dimensional trolls at West Brom.
So what does it all mean?
What is abundantly clear is that Crystal Palace like playing long, they like playing high balls into the box, and they are good at scoring goals when they do so.
The high percentage of goals from set plays, headers, and crosses, is a clear theme this season and one that won’t change when they arrive at the Emirates on Sunday.
Against West Ham, Arsenal were very publically exposed for their weakness in defending balls put into the box. The Hammers made no secret of their plans, and Arsene Wenger didn’t deny his side had a problem in dealing with that sort of strategy after the match.
The fact that Andy Carroll excelled under the high ball will most certainly have been noticed by Pardew and his team, and I expect there to be a real focus from them on creating situations where they can get the ball into the box.
Typically, the Eagles have deployed Connor Wickham up front as the lone striker but I just wonder if, given all that happened at Upton Park, Alan Pardew may just fancy playing both Wickham and Adebayor from the outset, in the hope of really putting pressure on the Gunners’ defence.
Arsenal shouldn’t have much trouble in putting goals past this Palace defence – which has proved slow and riddled with gaps this season. The conditions should be perfect for both Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi to thrive.
But the real test will be whether Arsenal can learn the lessons of last week and shore up a defence that has struggled to cope with crosses.
For me, restoring Olivier Giroud to the starting line-up, along with Per Mertesacker and Petr Cech is the best way to confront that problem. Adding the height and commanding presence of those three could well nullify the threat of a Palace side that has little left to shoot for – and with one eye on an FA Cup semi-final next week.
Arsenal to edge a 2-1 win