Crystal Palace v. Arsenal: Oliver Twist

First, let me say congratulations to Tony Adams who was appointed manager of Granada this morning. And best of luck to Big Tone, he’s going to need it, Granada are 7 points below the drop line with just 7 matches left to play. His task is going to be to drag Granada out of relegation. Something I suspect is impossible given the time left in the season.

Granada is owned by Jiang Lizhang, the Chinese billionaire who also owns or co-owns several sports teams, including the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA. Adams was working with Lizhang on heading up player recruitment at Granada when they announced the shock move.

Meanwhile back in England, Arsenal face Crystal Palace today in a match that is almost certainly going to be a test of Arsenal’s supposed new-found mental strenf.

Unlike West Ham last week, Arsenal face a Crystal Palace side who are in good form. Palace had won four in a row, including a big 2-1 win over Chelsea, before dropping points to Southampton on Wednesday. Also unlike West Ham, Palace are only three points off the drop and their manager Sam Allardyce will be keen to get any points they can.

Allardyce is a bit of a unique manager in that he’s not exactly a good manager but he does have one special talent, which is killing off football matches. He’s never going to teach players how to pass and move. His teams have never shown a “plan b” which is something the Brits love to ask their managers to have. And his brand of football is never a surprise, it’s always been and always will be long-ball, route-one, wide forwards crossing the ball in, trying to win the game on corners and free kicks, solid defense in the low block, and killing off the clock and breaking up play through rotational fouling and getting the ball out of play.

One other thing to look for is that Allardyce will look for mismatches in aerial duels: his teams love to play long diagonals in to big men like Benteke who will be positioned wide enough to force Bellerin or Monreal to cover him. In these situations, Benteke’s job is to win the header for a teammate who should be running full speed through the midfield.

In a funny way, Wenger and Allardyce are similar; both play a predictable brand of football. Wenger today is going to have his players playing vertically with his center backs encouraged to play long balls on the ground, his wing players coming inside, his defensive line will be high (with little pressure when they turn the ball over), his team will play zonal marking on corners, his forwards will have the freedom to roam, his defenders will be weak in the air, and his midfielders will switch off defensively on counter attacks.

Wenger will rely to a large extent on the superior talent of his players to see them through this match – you will even hear people rationalize “Arsenal are the better team, they should win this match”.

Wenger will probably continue with the Elneny-Xhaka partnership in midfield. Passing numbers will be high, perhaps even a season high. Defensive awareness from these two has to be perfect on the day or Arsenal will be punished.

Michael Oliver is the referee and Arsenal have an awful record under Oliver, the worst of any Premier League referee. Arsenal have only won three Premier League matches with Oliver as referee: West Brom (2011), Spurs (2013), and Chelsea (2016), all home matches. Arsenal have also never won a match with Michael Oliver as referee in a match that took place after matchday 14. The record there is 5 draws and 3 losses. Oliver has also awarded Arsenal just two penalties, both against Liverpool and both in losses (5-1 and 3-4), while awarding the opposition 4 penalties. Arsenal have never won an away match in Premier League play while Michael Oliver is referee with 4 draws and 3 losses.

One other thing to look for is that a lot of these teams like Crystal Palace, West Brom, and Stoke like to fall over whenever they feel any contact outside the box. This is the diving that no one ever complains about yet happens in every match. It’s especially prevalent among teams who like to complain about diving and who promote themselves as “tough, English teams”. Between the half-way line and the 18 yard box, on the flanks, there is a special little zone that teams like Palace like to dive in. Referees love to award these teams these fouls which sometimes leads to a set-piece shot.

Against Arsenal Palace will look to dive in these zones, get a set play, then exploit the big -to-little advantage with Benteke playing wide against Bellerin, nodding down balls, and causing havoc in Arsenal’s defensive lines.

I’m predicting a home win for Palace: 2-1.


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