Saturday’s game against Newcastle was supposed to be a chance for several fringe players to stake their claim for a starting position in the Premier League side.
They did not take it.
If anything the fact that substitutes Alex Lacazette, Bukayo Saka and, of course, Emile Smith Rowe had such a positive impact on the game reinforced their position as guaranteed starters.
The team is expected to be the same one who beat West Brom 4-0 on January 2, with Emile Smith Rowe given another chance to shine as the side’s No10.
Gabriel Magalhaes is one player who could return to the squad. The defender has been out since before Christmas with Covid-19, but he is back in full training.
This has made his selection decisions slightly easier ahead of what has the potential to be a tricky assignment against Crystal Palace.
The Eagles are in a rotten run of form with just one win in their last seven, but they are also unbeaten in their last four against Arsenal. On top of that there is also the added motivation for Wilfried Zaha up against the club who he supported as a boy.
Stories has resurfaced recently about how close the Ivorian came to a move across London, and he always seems extra motivate show the Gunners why they made the wrong decision.
They are a really dangerous side and they have shown that against big teams,” he said in his pre-match press conference.
They are a really compact and organised team and you know what you’re going to expect. They have players with a big individual talent that just need moments to win games, to create actions that can unbalance the game so we have to be very careful with that.
But at the same time the Spaniard stressed the need for his side to assert themselves against weaker opposition at home.
“Then, we have to play to be dominant again in the game,” he said.
We go from the first minute to try to win the game, to attack them and be cautious as well of the strengths that they have and try to control them as much as possible.”
Bernd Leno was one of the few to keep his place on Saturday after the poor form of Runar Alex Runarsson, and despite hardly being tested for the entire match, he pulled out what turned out to be a game winning stop from Andy Carroll in the 92nd minute.
The Gunners are on the hunt for a new goalie this January but the German will keep his place for the London derby barring anything catastrophic.
In front of him Kieran Tierney also reinforced why he is one of the best full backs in world football right now, creating six chances from open play against the Magpies.
Rumours about a move to Napoli were rightly laughed off this week. The Scot is going nowhere and Arsenal will be very glad of that.
On the other side his teammate Hector Bellerin has released a fascinating documentary about his return from the ACL injury that kept him out for nine months in 2019.
After a mixed return to the side the Spaniard has finally started to get back to something resembling his best in recent weeks operating slightly further infield in the Guardiola-esque style.
Rob Holding celebrated his impressive run of form with a contract extension this week. His rise from being more or less out of the door, to overcoming competition from David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi to become Arsenal’s first choice right back has been impressive this season and he is now an integral part of the back four.
Choosing Holding’s partner though is a slight more difficult task for Arteta. Pablo Mari has been in the back four for the past four matches in which Arsenal have conceded just once, but Gabriel who has been excellent for most of the rest of the season is back from his COVID-induced absence.
The shirt though is Mari’s to lose and the Spaniard is well placed to deal with the aerial threat of a Christian Benteke.
Into midfield and Granit Xhaka has often been criticised, but in a rare substitute appearance on Saturday the Swiss international showed what he can offer to the Arsenal side when he’s at his best.
Technical quality and passing ability where both shown in his cameo, particularly in the build up to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ‘s goal.
Alongside him there is a risk over playing Thomas Partey. The Ghanaian has been rushed back before, which ended up with him missing an extra month of football.
Mikel Arteta has acknowledged a desire to avoid repeating this but admitted he could be involved against Palace.
“Thomas now he’s been in full training for four or five days, he’s completely asymptomatic,” he said. “It was a little bit rushed to try and play him for Newcastle but I think he will be ready for Thursday.”
If he is fit though using Partey’s dynamism to break down the Eagles’ tight defence and cover their counter would be perfect for this game.
The youthful duo of Bukayo Saka have been simply outstanding recently registering a combined six goals and assists between them in their last four games.
Arteta may well have been worried by how little Nicolas Pepe and Willian did to challenge their places as starters in the Premier League side, but that won’t concern either youngster.
There might have been a decision to make between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on Gabriel Martinelli on the left had the Brazilian been fit.
Alex Lacazette is currently undroppable with his impressive run of form, and despite scoring on Saturday the Arsenal captain has looked off the pace at times this season.
But Martinelli’s tear-inducing ankle roll in the warm up on Saturday ensured that it will be Aubameyang who starts against Palace. The news is that the injury is not as bad as first feared, but why risk a talent who has already missed such a long time out recently.
First Arsenal predicted XI: Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Mari, Tierney; Xhaka, Partey; Saka, Smith Rowe, Aubameyang; Lacazette
Second Arsenal predicted XI: Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Mari, Tierney; Ceballos, Xhaka; Saka, Smith Rowe, Aubameyang; Lacazette.