Crystal Palace is a test of Arsenal’s mettle

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.



  1. I’m sure it’s pure coincidence that the premier league opener chosen by TV overlords was a potential banana skin away fixture involving Arsenal… 🙄

    Statement game for us.

  2. i didn’t realize doucoure had gone to palace. he’s a good player. i thought he was linked with a move to arsenal. likewise, eze is pretty electrifying. hopefully, the arsenal dominance will not allow the palace players a chance to shine.

    i wouldn’t fret too much on the results palace got against arsenal. man city only collected a single point from palace as well and they went on to win the league. in fairness, vieira’s matches against man city and arsenal are a bit personal as he played for both sides. he’s a very capable manager and was my first pick to take over after wenger left. i’m excited for this game. we’ll see what happens.

    1. Correct. A draw against Palace would be a fair result. A win away is good. A convincing win is a statement.

  3. I’m excited for the new season. Let’s hope the boys have matured a lot and not make the mistakes we made in the 3-0 loss… COYG 💪

  4. Thank you for your wise analysis and — how bout them apples — infectious enthusiasm! I’m feeling very excited about the team, not just for this year but many more.

    Btw, tiny nitpick – it’s noon PDT (which I guess is 11am PST, if daylight savings had never happened this year). I recognize it’s asinine of me to point that out, so I apologize. 🙂

    1. I wants one so bad, bro. The replica shirt kit this year is so good. Dont mind me and my moans. Im full bought in on the merch side 🙂

  5. Top of the league, with most goals scored & least goals conceded, what more can one as for other than more of the same 😉

  6. Good way to start. That new CB we have looks quite the player. Let the foot off the gas a little in the second half, maybe could have had a sub or two sightly earlier. And Odegaard didn’t have one of his better matches.
    But I’ll definitely take that. We’ve got a few theoretically easier matches coming now, could be in a good place early in the season.

  7. Started with the dreamboat version we saw in preseason, scored with paradoxically very direct football, then tried a little too hard to hang on to a narrow lead, but had enough to see it out while maintaining reasonable control. As predicted, the technical level from Arsenal was of a different class from last season, but Palace’s physicality, organization and size was still a formidable obstacle. I thought we were worth the win but were a little bit fortunate in a few key moments at both ends.

    On the personnel side, I loved what I saw from almost everybody. BW stood tall against Zaha and gave him no change, though Wilf did his best to trouble him. GJ was electrifying in the first half and especially before the goal, after which the team sat back more and he became isolated. Ramsdale made a huge save when 1 v 1 vs. Eze, and for me that was the flaspoint in the match when I knew we would win. Saliba was… Imperious. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a center back look so comfortable, so quickly in a premier league debut. BW is not getting his RCB spot back anytime soon. Nketiah’s cameo was impressive as well.

    In the coach’s corner, I will quibble that I felt the team became too cautious with the 0-1 lead and that gave Palace some life when it looked like we might run over them. It forced us into a pattern of sterile ball retention alternating with defending their long balls, expertly pinged by the impressive Joachim Andersen. Versions of this type of passivity with the lead were also apparent last season, so I hope the handbrake is going to be loosened. I felt the Tierney for Zinchenko sub was the right one but should’ve been made 10 minutes sooner. Zinny was already a liittle overmatched physically against Ayew, and he was dangerously gassed by 70 minutes. Subs coming a little too late was also a trend I hoped would not continue.

    1. Excellent analysis, Doc. 2-0 at Selhurst is nothing to sneeze at. We were fortunate and we did hit the handbrake too much, but that’s a tough fixture and we found a way to get 3 points. Saliba keeps looking better each game. Not sure how that’s possible. Tim’s been banging that drum for a while, but seeing is believing.

      My quibbles: If Saka and Odegaard take the extra touch in the box again, I’m going to scream. (I was screaming at the TV, truth be told.) This has been a recurring theme the preseason and it needs to stop. Ode especially is always trying to shift onto his left foot and passing up chances. Don’t get me wrong, they’re both great players but they have to pull the trigger faster.

      What I’m most excited about is we haven’t seen Arteta break out all of his legos yet. There are some great combinations yet to come. We saw what Tierney can add. What if we put Zin in for Xhaka while Tierney’s there? What if Tomi replaces White? Or Tomi for Gabriel? What if Eddie and Jesus play together? And what will Vieira bring to the team? A lot to discover. This might be the first time I’m actually interested to see who plays in Europa League games.

      1. Ah yeah I wanted to mention the thing with the late trigger, I felt the same way! Super frustrating! Martinelli does it too. They need to shoot on sight when placed like that.

      2. “What I’m most excited about is we haven’t seen Arteta break out all of his legos yet.”

        This made me chuckle! Nice touch!

  8. PS – I forgot about the offensive combination I want to see – ESR paired with Jesus. They will 1-2 some teams to death. Nothing against Martinelli, who’s been excellent. Just against some low blocks I’d like to see ESR get a chance. Or ESR for Xhaka – let’s throw all the attackers on at once!

  9. Saka showed in 60 seconds what Pepe’s problem is… he used his right foot to telling effect. To generate the own goal, and to nearly score a minute later.

    And Saliba? Having watched him all of last season and known of his quality, was pleased to see him showing everyone that he’s a defender of the highest class, and having that confirmed with MOTM and universal rave reviews. He’s rarely going to get beaten in a foot race from balls over the top playing a high line; he can shoulder charge an attacker off the ball because he’s a big, strong unit; and he reads the developing danger well. White played Zaha very well, but on the one occasion that the Palace winger rounded him, Saliba was waiting to put in a well timed tackle. In that situation where Mustafi would give you the heebie jeebies (tackles in the box), the kid oozed assurance. He always seemed to be where the dangerous ball was, and that was sometimes in LCB. His play is deceptively simple. Read the danger, be in place, when receiving the ball in space, lay it short or long. Or if the attacker backs off, ferry/carry it into the space. We will never know, but him being available to us could have made a difference between 4th and 5th. Let’s hope it does this season. I was nervous about him possibly dropping a clanger after all of the expectation, but except for one small miscommunication between him and Ramsdale ona cross, he looked like a veteran who’d been playing with us for years.

    Didn’t like Odegaard’s play. Off the pace, lacking sharpness, gave it way in dangerous areas, made a hospital pass or two, and we’ll always talk about that pass from G9 that he should have buried first time. Emile would have, as he did against Chelsea last season.

    Palace targeted Zinch. For a good 15 minute spell, all the attacks were coming down his side. He was decent at best. He needs to be more assertive stopping crosses. In part he was targeted, because White locked up their left side — our right — so effectively.

    But the start we wanted. Palace are tough at home, and I’d have taken a draw.

    1. Xhaka. Intriguing tactical play. He switched a lot with Zinch — dropping into LB while Zinch drifted into left midfield — but he still managed to be part of the attacking setup inside left. His attacking combination play is a tad underrated, and he was good today, notwithstanding the season’s first caution (bless him). It was interesting, and I’ll leave better footballing brains like Tim and Josh to dig into the tactics there.

      Partey kept it simple, sitting in from of the 2 CBs. He and Saliba already have a connection. He plays pretty well in traffic, Partey; particularly press congestion. So important to our play and control.

      It’s early, but with the the competition up front (Emile, Vieira, Eddie), seems to me our captain will get subbed a lot, and that armband is going to make the rounds before 90 minutes are up.

      Happy for Gaby11. His pre-season excellence was rewarded with a goal.

      1. Great point about Saka’s weak foot, noticed that too. That’s a huge string in his bow!

        Speaking of Pepe, it looks like he’s going to stay on for another season. I actually think that’s a good move. I can’t see us being able to land a superior option given how much we’ve already spent this window and the meager returns anticipated for the outgoing. Regardless of his limitations (weak foot, tactical and defensive awareness, lack of physical competitiveness) there are few better strikers of the ball anywhere than him. I mean that quite literally: that left peg is a wand. The trouble is getting him in positions to actually use it. I wonder if he’s going to be tried at CF when we go with two strikers because he can be deadly in the right situations and that gets him closer to goal. The other way I can see him used is when we are leading games, as an outlet on the counter. Operating in that right hand channel, a little bit like Wilf Zaha, was how he made his name at Lille. All in all, not a bad second string option!

  10. I dare say Saliba is our best defender, without him yesterday we would have conceded.he oozes calmness awareness BW and GM lacks.

  11. Great game and 3 points. It is safe to conclude Saliba helps us get over the “Mustafi trauma” of yesteryears.

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