Arsenal welcome Crystal Palace to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon with a chance to go eight points clear at the top of the Premier League.
The north London outfit currently sit five points ahead of second-placed Manchester City, who won't be playing in the league this weekend due to their involvement in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. The Gunners will be desperate to increase that gap over the reigning champions, who have begun to pick up some form in recent times, winning their last six fixtures across all competitions whilst keeping a clean sheet in the last five of those outings.
Still, Mikel Arteta's side have enjoyed some excellent form as of late as well, securing all three points in each of their last five league matches, including an extremely dominant 3-0 victory over Fulham last weekend. Now, Arsenal hero Paul Merson has backed his old side to defeat Palace today before the international break presents a two-week break in club football.
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Writing for Sportskeeda, Merson said: "I'm going for an Arsenal win all day long - pick a scoreline! I've always said this and I firmly believe it matters who plays first in terms of the title race. Manchester City are in the FA Cup, so if Arsenal manage to win this week, they can go eight points clear at the top of the Premier League table.
"City will have games in hand, but Arsenal need to do whatever they can to put pressure on Pep Guardiola's side as we enter the business end of the season. People keep saying Arsenal have hard games between now and the end of the season, but I look at Manchester City's run-in and it doesn't look a whole lot easier.
"Crystal Palace, on the other hand, are already in a relegation battle, but the good thing for them is that there's too much traffic between them and the bottom three. Patrick Vieira's side have a good set of fixtures coming up after Arsenal - every team they are set to face over the next six games is currently below them in the standings, so their clash against the Gunners becomes a bit of a free hit.
"As for Arsenal's standout performer this season, it's between Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard, for me. The Arsenal captain has led from the front and produced the goods consistently, while Saka has scored some big goals for Mikel Arteta. I like players who show up in big games to score the opening goal or the winner and Saka has done exactly that this season.
"Leandro Trossard is another player I've been really impressed by - what an unbelievable signing he's turning out to be for £28 million! He ticks many boxes and I think he'll get into the Manchester City team tomorrow."
Merson's Prediction: Arsenal 3-0 Crystal Palace
BBC pundit Chris Sutton echoed Merson's sentiment, predicting Arsenal to defeat Palace as well. However, the former Chelsea striker made sure to point out that the visitors' resolute defence won't be easy to break down.
"On paper you might look at this and think a straightforward home win but it rarely works out that way when Arsenal play Palace," Sutton said. "The Eagles have not been beaten at the Emirates on any of their past four visits, drawing three and winning one.
"Palace are on a long winless run and have not even managed a shot on target for a while but I am not so worried about them going down. They still have to play all eight of the teams below them in the table, and they picked up 16 points out of a possible 24 against them earlier in the season.
"The question here is whether Palace can hold out and they showed against Manchester City last weekend that they are not easy to break down - it took until the 78th minute for City to score with a penalty. So, it is not going to be easy for the Gunners - they will have to watch out for counter-attacks too - but I am still expecting them to win.
"Their focus has to be on this game, rather than the Europa League. Usually I'd advocate going for every competition but not now, with the finish line of the title race in sight. Win this, and Arsenal go into April eight points clear with 10 games to go. That would be enormous for them as they go into the home straight, and I think at least one of their players will step up again to make sure it happens."
Sutton's prediction: Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace
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