For the third time this season, frustrating nights have seen Arsenal exit a competition. And while the specifics around their FA Cup, League Cup, and Europa League runs differ, there was a consistent feeling of a missed opportunity. Regardless, like with both of the Cup exits, Arsenal must find a way to put that result aside and focus on the primary objective - the Premier League title. Up next, is a visit from London rivals.
Crystal Palace enters the match on the back of three straight 1-0 defeats, which have culminated in the end of Patrick Vieira’s tenure in charge at the club. Prior to that, it was three straight draws. Palace have only won one match since the return from the World Cup break, 2-0 over Bournemouth on New Year’s Eve. That match was also the only time since November 6th that the Eagles have scored more than one goal. Now they bring their struggling attack to the Emirates.
Ahead of this match, we spoke with Jay Crame from The Eagles Beak. [Note: These questions were submitted prior to the news that Crystal Palace had fired manager Patrick Vieira.]
TSF: Palace have had a difficult time lately not just picking up points, but creating shots on target. What have been the factors leading to this dip in attacking performance, even with Zaha returning?
The Eagles Beak: In short, strikers with a real lack of confidence. When Zaha returned, he went straight back up front as it is no secret that is his preferred position these days. In truth, he is much more important to us out wide. We have two strikers in JP Mateta and Odsonne Edouard who simply do not look like scoring even though we have created chances. The frustrating thing is that we are hard to break down and beat which is a good basis for any side to build on but it is so hard to put a finger on what is the problem going forward other than a real lack of confidence.
TSF: Despite being in 12th place, Palace are just three points above the relegation zone and five from the bottom of the table. That’s how close the battle is this year in the Premier League. How confident are you that they reverse this recent form and easily avoid a relegation battle at the end of the season?
The Eagles Beak: Well, the news that broke before providing these responses is that the club has acted for that very reason. It has been a tough run of fixtures since the start of the year which has had an effect but no wins this calendar year and the fact that the bottom half of the table is all of a sudden so tight proved to be the end of the Patrick Vieira reign at Selhurst Park. I do not agree with the decision. As mentioned above, we have been hard to beat but just not scoring the goals to be a threat in games which of course is a problem. However, with 8 of the 9 teams below us still to play between now and the end of the season means that we should pick up the points we need to avoid any real problems. Vieirashould have been given that opportunity.
TSF: Palace has eight players over 30 with contracts expiring this summer. Given the club’s limited January activity, are you anticipating a large overhaul of the squad in the summer if they are in the Premier League and Patrick Vieira remains in charge?
The Eagles Beak: That all depends on who comes in and whether it is an interim appointment or one that is to continue with the transition at the club which Vieira started when he was appointed. While the Frenchman has been sacked, the board has to shoulder some of the blame for not backing him in the last two windows so it is anyone's guess what direction the clubheads in now. Any manager that comes in must be backed for the reasons you have stated. This was always going to be a work in progress with the players inherited from the Hodgson regime, and hopefully, someone is appointed that can pick up that baton and carry on the work Vieira had started. Here’s hoping that man is backed in the transfer window.
TSF: Albert Sambi Lokonga joined Palace on loan at the end of the window. He has has four starts in which the side has only let in a total of three goals. While he is new to this squad and the attack is struggling to rediscover its form, what have you seen so far from Lokonga? What role has Vieira primarily been asking him to play?
The Eagles Beak: Lokonga was a deadline day loan signing in a window where we needed reinforcements, as Vieira stated. It did feel like a signing to fill a gap but that has proved not to be the case as he has been a very good addition to the squad. Assured on the ball, and strong in the tackle, he has gone about his business with little fuss and has shown exactly what Arsenal sees in him. It will be interesting to see what kind of role he plays for the remainder of the season as Vieira was clearly keen on bringing him in and playing him.
TSF: Give us your predicted starting XI for the match and a final scoreline.
The Eagles Beak: After the last 24 hours, who knows - with Vieira gone and two youth team coaches taking the reigns for this game and the long night Arsenal had in Europe, it is so hard to predict how this will go. It really would not surprise me if Palace turn up and cause a shock. Vieira had not lost the players so I suspect this will be a performance for him which all too often happens. I will be a little reserved and plump for a 1-1 draw which I will take with both hands before we head into a much more favourable run of fixtures.
Thanks to Jay and The Eagles Beak for talking with us ahead of this weekend’s match.