The shortened Premier League weekend schedule concludes on Sunday as Crystal Palace visit Arsenal in a London derby. Palace made a shock decision to sack manager Patrick Vieira on Friday after a poor run of results.
Palace have struggled for goals all season long, but that comes down more to a lack of attacking quality than the manager’s tactics and man management. The Eagles have also faced the toughest schedule of opposing fixtures in the PL.
Arsenal had a difficult finish to their Europa League campaign on Thursday after the Gunners lost at home to Sporting in a penalty shootout. Now that they’re out of all domestic and European cups, the Gunners can turn all of their attention to holding off Manchester City for the PL title race. They have a five-point lead and could push it to eight on Sunday with City playing in the FA Cup quarterfinal.
It’s a sign of how much the market perception has shifted on both of these teams that the Gunners were just -130 on the road to kick off the PL season at Palace. Now at home, the Gunners are laying more than 1.5 goals on the spread. Arsenal’s defense has cracks and the number is good enough to buy into the Eagles attack.
It’s hard to really poke holes in Arsenal’s attacking profile. It is true that they’ve struggled a bit for striker production without Gabriel Jesus’ ability to link the play, but the system remains solid under Mikel Arteta and the Gunners are top two or three in every meaningful attacking category.
Even when they rotated some of the top attackers or lost Eddie Nketiah to injury and had to play Gabriel Martinelli up top against Sporting, they produced more than 2 xG.
The Gunners force the second-most high turnovers in the league and use that as a springboard for the attack. We saw them hit a blip against Everton, Brentford and Manchester City briefly, but that was just that, a blip. The attack has a really high floor as it leads the league in shots per 90, is third in xG per set piece and has the fifth-lowest average shot distance.
But, you have to also consider the priors for them, and prior to this year the attacking core had plenty of possession and pressing but not a lot of high quality shots. Last year’s Arsenal would have (and did) struggled to break down a well-organized Palace defense.
This version of the Gunners should have a lot less trouble, especially since Palace struggle to defend one-on-one in the wide areas and prevent cutbacks.
Palace have now played eight different teams twice in the league, and all eight of them are in the top 11 in my Premier League power ratings. Once the Eagles play Arsenal, it will be nine matches against the top 11 twice and no second match against any of the bottom nine sides. The attack has been poor, but it’s an ideal time and spot to buy low on them against Arsenal’s overvalued defense.
We’ve seen time and time again in the Premier League that teams often get a bounce out of firing an old manager, especially in the immediate short term. Palace showed real signs of attacking life in the 1-0 loss at Brighton on Wednesday, when the Eagles produced more than 1 xG.
The attack has otherwise created fewer non-penalty xG per 90 than any other team in the league. By expected points, the Eagles should be in the bottom three. I don’t often like to use schedule adjustments this far into the season, but you have no choice when the strength of schedule is as lopsided as the Eagles one.
It’s true that Palace haven’t scored in four straight games, but they also faced a group of excellent defenses in the recent stretch and had a red card against Aston Villa.
Just two weeks ago, Bournemouth were +105 to score at the Emirates. Even though the Cherries came into that match in better form than Palace do here, there’s not this big of a gap in the true attacking talent and output of both teams for Palace to now be +120 to score themselves.
You’re buying at the absolute floor of the Eagles attack and selling high on an Arsenal defense that has allowed 13 xG in their last 10 matches across all competitions. The Gunners’ attack is still firing at elite production levels, but the defense has dropped and Palace can take advantage. I’d bet both teams to score at +130 or better.
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