Hodgson discusses impact Benteke can have at Palace

Matt Stead

Christian Benteke can hand Crystal Palace a crucial “focal point” against Arsenal, according to Roy Hodgson.

Belgium striker Benteke missed Palace’s 1-1 Premier League draw at Swansea on December 23 through suspension.

The 27-year-old will return for Thursday’s Selhurst Park clash with Arsenal though, leaving manager Hodgson relieved to add a direct edge to his attack.

“We were without Benteke at Swansea; he was a big loss for us in the way we are trying to play,” said Hodgson.

“I thought Wilf (Zaha) and Andros (Townsend) did a fantastic job but when they are playing together we don’t have a physical presence or that focal point in attack which most teams would like.

“I miss Benteke in good form, that’s for sure, and we’ll be pleased to welcome him back for these coming games.”

Palace are unbeaten in eight matches as former England manager Hodgson gets to grips with the Eagles’ relegation battle.

The south London club’s steady recent form has carried Hodgson’s men out of the relegation zone, but the experienced boss insists no amount of matches without defeat would ease the task of hosting Arsenal.

The last time the Gunners travelled to Selhurst Park in April, they were on the end of a comprehensive 3-0 defeat.

But when asked if Palace’s good run will hand them a boost against Arsene Wenger’s men, Hodgson replied: “No: I certainly don’t look forward to playing the teams that are fully expected to beat us by everybody, and a team that is such a good team with so many good players.

“We’re going to find it very difficult to give them a game.

“We don’t beat them very often, either home or away.

“We’ll have to be at the absolute top of our game which means playing better than we did at Swansea.

“Then we’ll have to hope that Arsenal decide to play badly for some reason and we might have a chance.”