When Crystal Palace beat Arsenal 3-0 at Selhurst Park last year it was a tough loss to take. Arsenal had a nearly full complement of players that day, Arsenal limited them to just 5 total shots, but lost 3-0 and worst of all, really struggled to get forward. And unlike Palace, when Arsenal did get forward, Øde, Smith Rowe, and Lacazette failed to capitalize.
What made the game fun for Palace and miserable for Arsenal was the Palace press. Twice last season Palace forced Arsenal into more miscontrols (a player just turning the ball over when its passed to them) than any other team in the League. Similarly with dispossessed numbers – which is a stat which counts the number of times a player has the ball taken from them. Palace didn’t need an extraordinary number of pressures to accomplish this, both times overall pressures were high but not in the top 20% of the pressures Arsenal felt last season, they just seemed to know where we were going to be before we got there and were able to take the ball off us.
Arsenal took just one point from Palace last season and it was frankly a bit of a lucky point, with a 95th minute equalizer from Lacazette. And Palace have strengthened this off season. Patrick Vieira brought in Chieck Doucoure – a dominant CM who is often compared to PV4 himself – and just as importantly they have Ebereche Eze at 100% fitness and Wilfred Zaha is firing on all cylinders. So it’s entirely reasonable for some Arsenal supporters to be nervous going into this match.
However, Arsenal have also strengthened and have strengthened just where they needed to in order to meet the challenge of teams like Palace. Palace applied pressure mostly to Soares and Tavares last season. Tavares was removed at half time in that match – which shows that the boss thought he couldn’t handle the pressure – and while Soares stayed on for another 20 minutes, he was easily Arsenal’s worst player: completing just 74% of his passes.
Arsenal have replaced Nuno with Zinchenko – a player with excellent touch and control – and have replaced Soares (possibly) with Ben White, again another upgrade. And up front, Arsenal have replaced Lacazette with Gabriel Jesus. Which is no small upgrade, folks. It’s like we completely revitalized the entire attack. Sorry if that seems like a bit too much optimism for this web site.
Palace aren’t just simply a team which sits back and waits to counter. They are an organized proactive defensive team and they have a lot of parts which can hurt Arsenal on the counter. I think they are a sleeper team this year and that they could get into Europe if they keep all their players healthy. However, Arsenal seem to have done the transfer work necessary to get results against clubs like Palace. Arsenal’s attack should put palace on the back foot and the ball control in all areas of the pitch could leave Palace chasing shadows.
Obviously there are 38 games in a season and one result rarely makes or breaks a season but it’s fair to say that today is a huge test and will tell us more about where we can expect Arsenal and Palace to finish this season. Kickoff is Noon PST.