On the first day of January 2017, I was one of the few lucky spectators who viewed the Olivier Giroud Puskás award-winning goal against Crystal Palace. An absolutely brilliant scorpion from Giroud and a rebounded Iwobi header saw Arsenal win 2-0 that day.
As Arsenal travel to Selhurt Park on Sunday, I am reminded of the only time I was able to see the team live. That experience would eventually drive me to apply for my position at The Short Fuse, and almost two years later I am writing this match preview.
Alright enough of the personal soliloquy.
For Crystal Palace, this fixture against the Gunners comes at the wrong time.
Manager Roy Hodgson’s squad has been struggling to say the least over their first ten games of the season. The only two wins the Eagles can boast are an opening day victory against newly-promoted Fulham, and a 1-0 victory against win-less Huddersfield. They are lucky to be in 15th in the table.
The main issue has been goal scoring. Despite being in the middle of the pack in goals conceded, only Huddersfield have scored less than Crystal Palace’s five goals in the Premier League. To make things worse, the Eagles have failed to score in their last four home matches.
Last year’s tactic “just get the damn ball to Wilfried Zaha” that kept the Eagles in the English top flight may need some re-adjusting if Palace want to take anything from Sunday’s game. It is no secret the Ivorian is the central component of what would otherwise be a decent Championship attacking force. He is probably best described as a number eleven role from the wing. However, he is a bit less traditional in the sense that Hodgson gives Zaha the freedom to move where he wants.
If you haven’t seen much of Zaha to this point, then you should watch some of his highlights. Blistering pace, a beautiful first touch, and a scorching shot [with both feet] make Zaha one of the Premier League’s most entertaining attackers. Zaha has three goals to his name so far this season and an assist, which means he has played a hand in 80% of Crystal Palace’s goals this season. Safe to say that Emery’s training sessions will be focused on eliminating the versatile attacker from the game.
While Zaha attracts the attention, his defensive supporting cast will be hard at work in a more subtle role. Last season’s late emergence of 20 year old Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been a resource to Hodgson. The defensive right back is the strongest presence in a relatively decent back four. Only Idrissa Gueye of Everton averages more tackles (5.4) than Wan-Bissaka (4.4) per game, and Wan-Bissaka is also in the top ten for interceptions per game (2.4) in the Premier League.
Dutchman Patrick van Aanholt complements Wan-Bissaka on the left side of the back four. The two are pivotal to Crystal Palace’s style of play, which will usually see them move into attacking positions to relieve the pressure on Zaha. Watch for them to try and take advantage of Arsenal’s poor marking down the outside (similarly to how Chilwell caused the Bellerin OG on Monday). Each wing back has an assist this year for the Palace side.
At one point in 2018, Max Meyer was linked with a move to the Emirates after his time was up at Schalke. The holding midfielder had a few marvelous seasons in Germany before publicly attacking the sporting director at Schalke. His comments led him to a move on a free transfer to South London this summer, and his addition to the squad added to a Palace team which lacked depth. Meyer’s passing numbers are above average (92.3%) and he fancies a tackle in the midfield. Arsenal will need to shutdown the potential connection between Zaha and Meyer, along with his other midfielders like Milivojevic and McArthur. If Lucas Torreira is playing, I don’t see him being a factor.
The Gunners are scalding hot right now as they come off their 11th straight victory in all competitions after a 1-0 win in Portugal Thursday evening. Unai Emery will want every last point he can get ahead of the Liverpool clash at Anfield next weekend. Sunday’s fixture is a chance to take 24 out of 24 points [in the Premier League] and stay within striking distance of the top of the table. So how did Arsenal revolutionize their play to get to this point?
Look no further than the man on the sideline. Emery’s new tactics have revitalized a side that was full of complacency and lacked in work ethic. Arsenal now lead the league in distance covered each mach, are securing away results, and continue to break down well-organized defenses. There are now halftime tactical changes and intelligent substitutions made before opponents can break down the Gunners. I feel as though I am watching a new team.
There are plenty of members of the squad who have played large parts in this recent run of wins, and all of the players deserve credit for their collective success. However, in my opinion, it is the players who had been written off last season/this summer by the media who have been performing the best.
Alex Iwobi, Granit Xhaka, Rob Holding, Danny Welbeck - the list goes on. Each one of them were written off by the media [including myself, specifically to Iwobi] during the summer as a “flop”. There were questions about Mesut Ozil not being able to work hard enough to fit into Emery’s squad. Six games later, his masterclass led Arsenal to a 3-1 win against Leicester last Monday evening. Every one of these players has improved, and will continue to improve as long as they stay focused on one game at a time.
This is no intended sleight at Arsene Wenger or his [unparalleled] legacy. While my prior comments about the changes from last year may allude to that, it may just be that a change of scenery that this team needed. Last year in April, an away match was a game I would never bet on Arsenal taking a point from. Hell, even two years ago Arsenal lost 3-0 at Crystal Palace when they were more than favored to win. Flash forward to October 2018 and I wouldn’t bet against Arsenal under any circumstance.
Can we make it 12 straight wins ahead of next week’s trip to Anfield? Let’s hope so!
Arsenal: Leno; Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Lichtsteiner; Xhaka, Torreira; Iwobi, Ozil, Aubameyang; Lacazette.
Crystal Palace: Hennessy; Wan-Bissaka, Sakho, Tomkins, Aanholt; McArthur, Milivojevic; Meyer; Townsend, Ayew, Zaha.
WHAT: Arsenal at Crystal Palace
WHERE: Selhurst Park, London
WHEN: Sunday, October 28th, 6:30 AM PT | 9:30 AM ET | 2:30 PM BT
US TV: NBCSN
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