Welcome back from the 22nd FIFA international break of the current season [TSF fact-checkers are still working to confirm this]. After the last pause for national team fixtures, Arsenal returned with improved form and have gone unbeaten. The next set of five matches kicks off with a visit by Crystal Palace to the Emirates. If the Gunners return from international duty healthy and resume their defensive bounce, Arsenal could find themselves chasing down the European positions in the table by the time we hit the November break [wait, seriously? there’s another one of these in a few weeks...]
Meanwhile, Palace find themselves 14th in the table under the guidance of new manager, Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira. They have only lost twice so far this season, Liverpool and Chelsea, but we thank them for their 3-0 defeat of Spurs. To get us back up to speed with the Premier League action we welcome Crystal Palace blog The Eagles Peak and Jay to discuss the club, Patrick Vieira, and the upcoming match.
TSF: Seven points from seven matches to start the season. How have the performances thus far measured up to your preseason expectations for Crystal Palace?
TEB: Considering the changes at the club in the summer and the way that the fixtures fell to kick off the new campaign, the points total at this stage of the season has been pleasing and probably better than fans' expectations. Having only lost at Chelsea (opening day) and Liverpool, so far this season has been impressive but there is a feeling that it should be better as there are a couple of games where we should have gone on to take all three points rather than draw. The biggest thing is that we are playing good football. Even at Anfield, it felt like an undeserved scoreline in the end and shows just how far we have come in a short space of time under Patrick Vieira.
TSF: The club made a handful of signings this summer, who has made the most impact thus far, and which player was the most important addition based on the squad’s needs?
TEB: That is a tough question to answer, to be honest as several of the new additions have impressed. I will start with Conor Gallagher, midfielder on loan from Chelsea, who has been a real breath of fresh air in this Palace team. He has provided so much energy to the side and his youthful exuberance is so infectious. Many fans would urge Steve Parish to ask Chelsea to name their price he has been so good. Then we move on to our new centre back pairing - Marc Guehi from Chelsea and Joachim Andersen from Lyon (spent a season on loan at Fulham last campaign). These two are ball-playing centre backs, the like of which we have not seen before, and the early signs are very good indeed, apart from the errors against Leicester.
Then you have the Odsonne Edouard from Celtic who many clubs took a look at and never took the punt. A striker that plays very much on his toes and on the front foot will always score goals and create chances for others - his brace against Spurs just shows you what he is capable of. The best young player in the Championship last season was Michael Olise and before the Leicester game made a few cameo appearances from the bench but his role in the fightback against the Foxes really saw him hit centre stage. With all this taken into account, it is easy to forget the addition of Will Hughes from Watford who has yet to play any part but that says more about the way that the team are playing than anything else and he will get his chance.
TSF: As expected there was a big exodus of players in the summer as Palace dealt with a number of expiring contracts. Who has been the biggest loss and what gaps still need addressing in future transfer windows?
TEB: The squad remains a work in progress but the club did very well in the summer once the new manager was appointed. It could not have been easy as much of the summer saw the club having its eyes turned by different names before settling on the former World Cup winner. Full back and centre back are a couple of areas where strength in depth is probably needed but we do have Nathan Ferguson still to make his debut for the club after a lengthy spell out injured.
As for attacking options, we still have Eberechi Eze to come back in after injury so in all honesty, we are not far off a good squad of players with a number of highly-rated academy players potentially getting their chance. Striker options is one area that we could improve as Jordan Ayew is far from prolific, for Jean-Philippe Mateta the jury is still out on and there is a real question about Christian Benteke being able to fit into the way this side plays under Patrick Vieira.
TSF: What were your initial thoughts when Patrick Vieira was announced? And how do you assess his performance so far?
TEB: It felt like the third choice after the club went after Nuno Espirito Santos and Lucien Favre. Once those two were out of the running, there was a wonder who we would be left ahead of the new season fast approaching. But once Patrick Vieira was announced, there was quickly an air of optimism around the club. He was saying all the right things, bringing in all the right people to support him, and being positive in the transfer market.
Of course, there was always a worry of moving away from those tried and trusted managers that Palace have gone for since returning to the Premier League, but after what we have seen from Vieira and the team since the start of the season, it has been very positive indeed. He has implemented a playing style from day one and the team have rarely been beaten in possession statistics so far. Not just that but the side play with the ball more than we have seen for some time and use the high press to pressure the opposition. He has shown early on that he is a progressive manager and while there is a long way to go yet, it is exciting times in and around Selhurst Park at the moment.
TSF: Wilfried Zaha remains the key player at Selhurst Park, but his contract expires at the end of next season. Do you believe the club will finally cash in on him next summer or is there any chance a surprising shift up the Premier League table this season could see him stay?
TEB: If Wilf was to go then he would have by now. It is no secret that he is an Arsenal fan and whether the appointment of Vieira was a shrewd one on the part of the club, it is clear he is enjoying his football this season. Yes, he takes a lot of stick from opposition fans about his perceived tantrums during games but he is like any other player out there, he wants to win. One of the comments he has come out with this season is about winning something for this club and that says an awful lot. Yes, he is a big fish in a small pond but he just fits. With the exciting additions of Eze and Olise to this squad and the side playing good football, it is the best chance we have ever had of ensuring Wilf stays at the club.
TSF: Palace’s new forward Odsonne Édouard was also rumored to be on Arsenal’s radar this past year. Already with two goals how do you rate his arrival and can he be the forward piece that Vieira builds the attack around in the coming seasons, especially if Zaha is sold?
TEB: It is clear that his last season at Celtic put a lot of clubs off but that has seen us benefit. He will score goals, there is no doubt about that, as we saw against Spurs. He has yet to add to that of course but he has played his part in the performances since making his full debut. He fits the style Vieira has implemented at Palace perfectly and will hit double figures this season for sure.
TSF: After a productive loan spell at West Brom last season, Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher has arrived at Palace on loan. He has appeared to be a key piece of Vieira’s plans and already provided two goals and an assist. If this form continues do you believe Crystal Palace could convince Gallagher and Chelsea to a permanent deal?
TEB: I alluded to this earlier but yes, we are hoping we can entice Chelsea to part ways with the youngster. Gallagher made it clear that he wants to play for Chelsea but since then, the club has spent more money on midfielders and is likely to do so in the future. That leaves Gallagher in a difficult situation, one that we saw Ruben Loftus-Cheek go through at Stamford Bridge after his loan spell at Palace. Having said that, Gallagher was a big part of the home win against Spurs and he was the last player off the pitch in front of a bouncing Selhurst Park after the final whistle. He gets it already and we may have an opportunity to encourage him to join Palace permanently. Like Loftus-Cheek before him, it will be tough to see him go back across London next summer, he has been that good.
TSF: A new transfer rumor this past week linked Aaron Ramsey with a return to the Premier League via a number of clubs including Crystal Palace. Do you believe there is any credit in Ramsey coming to play for Vieira?
TEB: No, I cannot see that at all. It has been a difficult summer with a number of players leaving the club to bring down the wage bill and aged players so I cannot think for one second that Ramsey would be a viable option. There is no doubting his quality but with the rebuild that Vieira has started, I don’t see where the Welshman fits in.
TSF: What is your projected formation and lineup for Crystal Palace this weekend?
TEB: Not much to change from the draw with Leicester although Olise may well be in with a chance of a start in place of Jordan Ayew who has struggled for form in front of goal. Vieira may choose a different game to make the change so it will probably be the same starting lineup - Guaita, Ward, Mitchell, Andersen, Guehi, McArthur, Gallagher, Milivojevic, Ayew, Zaha, Edouard.
TSF: And, finally, give us your prediction for the match this weekend.
TEB: Looking forward to a close contest and Vieira bringing his Palace side to a club that he spent such a long time at. I am going to go for a 1-1 draw which will probably suit both teams at this stage.
Thanks to Jay and The Eagles Beak for taking some time to discuss Crystal Palace.