Arsène Wenger has hailed the influence of Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla, as Arsenal prepare to take on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday. Cazorla has been superb in recent weeks since being moved to a central midfield role and has played a big part in Arsenal winning eight of their last nine matches in all competitions.
“Until now he has been maybe the most consistent, he has been voted player of the month twice in the last two months, that means he has been remarkably consistent,” Wenger said at his press conference on Friday. “Since he has moved centrally his influence has been bigger as well.”
Cazorla again excelled last Saturday as Arsenal beat Middlesbrough 2-0 to move into the FA Cup quarterfinals, where they’ll take on Manchester United on Mar. 9. That fixture adds to a hectic period for Arsenal in the coming weeks, which may go a long way to determining the success of their season. On Wednesday, the Champions League returns to the Emirates Stadium, when Monaco visit in the first leg of a Champions League last 16 matchup. Wenger, though, insists his full focus is on Selhurst Park on Saturday.
“The most important game is Crystal Palace because it’s the next one. The Champions League has no influence on that at all.”
Saturday’s contest contains plenty of importance, too. Every Premier League point between now and the end of the season looks set to be pivotal for Wenger’s men, with Arsenal currently lying in fifth place, a point behind Southampton in the final Champions League qualifying position and two adrift of third-placed Manchester United.
Ahead of the start of their intense schedule, Arsenal will be boosted by Jack Wilshere again being available for selection. The England midfielder has been absent for three months with an ankle problem, but could be involved in some capacity, likely from the bench, on Saturday.
“He’s a bit ahead of schedule,” Wenger stated. “He has worked hard and had no big problems, so it’s good to have him back.”
His return will bolster a midfield that will still be missing Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain. Defender Hector Bellerin is also a doubt for the game. Palace, meanwhile, will be unable to call upon striker Yaya Sanogo, who is ineligible after moving to Selhurst Park on loan from Arsenal in January. Providing he shakes off a niggling injury, there is, though, likely to be a place for former Gunners forward Marouane Chamakh. The Morocco international initially made a big impact after joining Arsenal from Bordeaux in 2010, but then struggled after losing his place in the team, before moving to Palace in 2013.
“You know he was in and out at Arsenal, it’s a difficult club to break through,” Palace manager Alan Pardew said, reports the Daily Star. “It’s difficult to get a run with so many great players. For players like Cham, sometimes it’s best to move away and find yourself and he has found himself and he’s an asset to us.”
Pardew won his first four matches after leaving Newcastle United to take over at Crystal Palace at the turn of the year, but has led them to just one win in four since. And with Palace only five points clear of the relegation zone, there is little room for complacency.
Prediction: A match at Selhurst Park always presents a difficult proposition for the visiting team. But Pardew’s men have gone a little flat in recent weeks and still struggle to score goals. And with Arsenal having now got back on track following a defeat to Tottenham, they should come away with the three points.
Crystal Palace 1-3 Arsenal
Kickoff time: 10 a.m. EST
TV channel: NBC Sports Premier League Extra Time
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra