It’s been only two and a half months but the off-season always seems way longer though the Lionesses did get us all getting upbeat to sweet caroline, but now the time has finally come to welcome back the biggest league in the world, The English Premier League, and what better way to kick-start the new campaign with two Arsene Wenger bound players now turned managers – Patrick Viera’s composed Crystal Palace hosting Mikel Arteta’s ardent Arsenal.
This particular fixture has resulted in ample of surprises in recent years with most of the games advancing into nail-biting stages and concluding with the sides sharing a point each. The last outing at Selhurst Park ended with Palace’s 3-0 win over Arsenal where the Eagles promoted themselves to the top half of the premier league table at the point and impaired Gunner’s hopes of a top-four finish. Roy Hodgson’s last game as a manager ended in a 1-3 defeat to Arsenal as the manager walked through the sidelines of his boyhood club with the crowd on their feet and chanting his name. It was no fantasy farewell to Roy Hodgson as the gunners clinched that win in the added minutes with super-sub Martinelli and Pepe’s double sealing the deal to Europa League places.
The Gunners’ faithful have been excited the whole summer with a productive transfer window. Entering the new season with their statement signing from the champions, Gabriel Jesus firing all preseason. Zinchenko’s addition to the squad brings in the versatility on the left with the Ukrainian’s ability to perform heroics as a full back and in the midfield as well. The return of William Saliba to England and finally being part of Arteta’s men is long overdue. Saliba’s successful loan spell at Marseille and getting into the league 1 team of the season were all ears during his brilliant preseason performances in the past month. Fabio Vieira could be an underdog incoming as well, but he is yet to make debut for Arsenal owing to a muscle injury.
Crystal palace have missed out on bringing back their star of the last season, Connor Gallagher, with Chelsea deciding to add him to their first team squad after his successful loan spell. Palace decided to look the other way and decided to bring in a top-quality defensive midfielder Cheik Doucoure – a position for which they haven’t had technical quality player for a long time. The signing of the USA international Chris Richards from Bayern Munich is predicted to be the key to their defensive locks. Sam Johnstone’s addition to this Eagles side now pressurizes Guita’s place in the starting XI. Palace have also sealed the in-demand 18-year-old talented right winger Malcolm Ebiowie from Derby County. His performances have been exciting in the pre-season with his dribbling skills and cutting in from the flanks catching the eye of many.
Crystal Palace have always been a side that flies low when it comes to transfers but the Eagles always fly high when they perform against the big six sides. They are always at it from the get-go. Though they have had a roller-coaster this preseason with ten of their senior players not allowed to board the flight to their tour to Australia last month. This issue certainly set them back in their preparations but there were few positives to take with Patrick Viera getting a closer look at the young guns. The incoming of Doucoure alongside Jeffrey Schlupp would be critical in providing Eze the freedom to express himself on the ball, as he looked very sharp in the pre-season. Be it from the corner, or carries – Eze has been full gas this pre-season. Though Palace, at times, looked clumsy defensively in the pre-season and it’s something they will have to look into as the Premier League commences.
For the visitors, Arsenal comes in on the back of quite an impressive pre-season. Coming in high in confidence and there ain’t no reason they shouldn’t. Mikel Arteta & his Arsenal went to Adidas headquarters in Germany to start their summer preparations before heading to the USA in the off-season and everything was topped by a 6-0 win over Sevilla in the Emirates Cup last weekend. They look a side that are hungry to prove themselves and the structure around them is complimentary of what they want to do and where they want to be.
When and Where?
Venue: Selhurst Park, London.
Date: Friday, August 5 2022.
Time: 20:00 BST.
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Assistants: Gary Beswick, Adam Nunn.
Fourth official: Peter Bankes.
VAR: Darren England.
Assistant VAR: James Mainwaring.
Crystal Palace vs Arsenal: In-Depth Analysis
Two clubs that have under-gone colossal changes over the past couple of years, walk a homogeneous road to get competing with consistency. Arsenal, already being a top club not only in Europe but also beyond, have done so with some grace about them while it was hefty and controversial at times to move on a bunch of players from their time in North London but Mikel Arteta has been fairly palmy into getting that done. While for Crystal Palace, Patrick Vieira took over a bisected squad with contract problems and in an appalling state – but the Frenchman was a breath of fresh air, bringing in young faces that are hungry to prove themselves while doing so in a way that creates a swagger about them. It’s safe to say that both the clubs are on a parallel arc with the Gunners boarding over owing to financial backing and better tactical adequacy.
But the corresponding themes go on; Both the teams operate in a highly tactical system that suits a hybrid way of keeping the ball and attacking in different patterns. Mikel Arteta has better quality at his disposal with regards to sustaining his system than Patrick Vieira. But the Frenchman is equally smart about the way he operates with the high press that turns into a mid/low block against sides that want to keep the ball for ninety minutes (viz. Arsenal, Manchester City, Brighton) and try to snap them up on transitions. Vieira has been fairly successful in doing so.
Another area, and one that’s visible on paper in clarity, that identifies similar aspects of both the clubs is that Mikel, as well as Patrick, has a young, quite inexperienced group of players that have tehinical skills, understanding of the game and use of space.
Crystal Palace – an overview
As earlier stated, Crystal Palace come smart when it comes to facing clubs that want to nail the opponents down and hurt them. Rather than going for a ball-keeping approach they try to dominate the second balls and press intensely to force them into regaining possession which follows through with a transition.
Going into the build-up phase of Crystal Palace, that’s exactly how they hurt Arsenal last season at Selhurst Park. They know Arsenal will be pressing high and intensely – so rather then risking a short pass to build up from the back, they reverted to pushing ball long into the phase 2 relying on the physique of their front line to shield aerially while their midfielders are awaiting to snap up the second balls. Mateta and Zaha have enough prowess to hold for Arsenal’s defender header while Gallagher was causing Arsenal problems in halfspaces to open them up. Below is one of the examples where Jean-Philippe Mateta was nearly through when ball was whipped from phase 1, as Arsenal are pressing aggressively:
Unless Crystal Palace have sustained possession of the ball, they will work these aerial balls and try to put a stamp on the game.
While Palace are a team that loves to play out from the back and frame themselves in a 4-3-3 formation as they build from the back, the introduction of Cheick Doucouré means they will now have the technical quality to keep the ball and try to bypass the press with passes. But it should be a difficult proposition for them to do so owing to Arsenal’s compact structure and high yet aggressive press. Last season, Palace didn’t risk playing short as Arsenal pressed symmetrically and they worked on with playing long balls and winning those duels. That’s where Arsenal lost the game last season i.e. in horizontal line of Arsenal’s midfield in a 4-4-1-1 press as Palace tried to get through by stretching the compactness of the midfield while they retained second balls.
Coming through to Crystal Palace’s pressing, Palace matched Arsenal’s 4-4-1-1 press with rotations and deployed inverted wings to block halfspaces in the buildup from short kicks. Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew were positioned in a way that covers Arsenal’s midfield interiors (i.e. Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard) in shadow while they can turn on the full-backs and capitalize on a heavy touch, while Mateta and Gallagher were positioned in a manner that Mateta blocked passing lanes to Partey to stop the use of third as the latter operated in pockets.
Below is one of the examples where Ben White was caught by Wilfried Zaha while Arsenal tried to play out form the back:
Crystal Palace have one of the best compact mid/low blocks in the league, and a 4-5-1 block with a bouncing midfielder plays an essential role in that being so. While their compact structure propels the opponents into trying something new, their capacity to shift midfield horizons assures horizontal passes then progressive symmetrical passing.
Arsenal – an overview
In Arsenal, we are talking about a team with one of the most elite structures in the game, Mikel Arteta has created a system and the game for them revolves around sticking to that structure and owning up the passes. It was quite translucent last season, especially on its conclusive end – that Arsenal plays some of the most technically efficient football, one that is close to that of Manchester City. Come next season, Arsenal will have added firepower and depth to an already exciting squad which will open up varied patterns of play owing to the quality of players they have brought in.
The level-up from last season is quite visible looking at their performances in the pre-season friendlies, they may count for nothing but it demonstrated that the Gunners are to be taken seriously this season and going ahead. When Mikel Arteta came in he was pretty verbal about how he wanted his squad to attack & defend as a unit – it took some time, but in this Arsenal – everything is done for a reason, be it a fake run or a rotating pass. Arsenal finally looks a unit.
One of the best aspects of Arsenal’s pre-season games was their pressing. The Gunners press in multiple variations which is highly cognated with the hybrid of how opponents line themselves up and where they stand as regards with the game. There have been instances where they press in 4-2-3-1 with Jesus or Martinelli 9, 4-1-4-1, 4-4-2 with either Ødegaard or Saka accompanying Jesus and at times they take up diamond shape as well that blocks passing lanes and mid interiors. Moreover, their presses are intense which will make it difficult for Palace to break through, and will be forced to play aerial balls to bypass the press, especially with Arsenal’s full-backs taking up high positions.
Last season against Palace, Arsenal had a similar structure but they were let down by players – especially with Alex Lacazette upfront. This time around Arsenal have Gabriel Jesus – who is one of the best and most intense pressers in world football. So that will make it rather more difficult for Crystal Palace’s centre-backs to pin out passes. If they do so – to the full-back, Arsenal will have a winger pinned to pressure with the full-back backing up on it. Below is an example of such a moment in Arsenal’s match vs Sevilla which in turn led to Arsenal scoring. Many will say it was a goalkeeping mistake, but the hosts had a pinned press on which led to regaining possession in the final third:
Moving on to the blocks, Arsenal deploy a similar 4-4-2 compact mid-block like Palace and are very difficult to breakdown. If Crystal Palace sustains pressure for a time with their passing range, it will take some individual antics for them to break down Arsenal’s compact block. Arsenal will have to try to minimize the involvement of players that can make do something different viz. Eze, Zaha, Oliese. Gabriel Jesus’ tendency to run and cause panic will not only be helpful in regaining possession but also will be an asset in blocks to push the hosts back and in-turn taking up the block rather up-ahead.
So, How can the game unfold?
Arsenal want to pin teams back, and once they do they are elite in breaking them down owing to their sustainable midfield to sustain pressure, elite positional understating and their intent to use space to cause chaos. The Gunners will start with similar intensity and deploy hybrid presses to win back possessions as they will want to keep the game fast. While Crystal Palace will want to slow down the game and try building on some passes.
Last season, Arsenal were very difficult to control for Crystal Palace when they played through left halfspaces on a aggressive note. Emile Smith Rowe was deployed in the left halfspace and about all the time it left Crystal Palace to defend on the backfoot with their midfield bypassed. Arsenal have been playing quite some exciting football form the left in the pre-season and will look to hurt Palace in a similar fashion but rather more unpredictably with Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli, Oleksandr Zinchenko, and Granit Xhaka forming a chaotic positional play.
A set of play that saw Arsenal take the attack on from left on multiple occasions in the pre-season:
But taking up attack form the left means, there will be ample of space on the left that Crystal Palace’s RW can use. It’s one way that Chelsea tried to break Arsenal down, and with Andersen in that right centre-back role it’d be an interesting prospect – especially if a technical carrier in Michael Olise were to start on the right flank.
Arsenal have an upper hand qualitatively as well as structurally. With that they also boast a structural defence that is capable of diffusing aerial threats that Crystal Palace pose with William Saliba complementing Gabriel Magalhães while Ben White and Oleksandr Zinchenko play covers to pockets left behind if either of them were to push up to contain play. So How could Crystal Palace go about this?
They maintained a 4-5-1 block against Manchester City last season, one that helps covering flanks and shifts horizontal midfield line to create overload and force recycling of balls. This also prevents attack overloads. One of the best things about Palace’s narrow block is how easily they can shift flanks without giving up spaces. They will try to maintain the same if Arsenal were to pin them down.
(Below) How Crystal Palace forced City to recycle with their 4-5-1 block:
While they are on the block, Crystal Palace also have players that can cause deep troubles on transitions –Mateta/Edouard, Eze, Zaha. And that is where they can get opportunities to hurt Arsenal when they are pinned back.
(Above) You could see how slick Crystal Palace can be to hurt teams in transition. This is one of their goals in pre-season vs Montpellier.
Conclusively, this is Arsenal’s game. They have structural and qualitative advantage to not only control games but also hurt blocks as well as transitional plays while having a covered defence to better aerial duels. They were dominated in midfield last year, but having added the technical abilities of Zinny and Jesus who are pretty confident about themselves and work to keep the ball – that should not be the case come Friday.
Cheick Doucouré comes in for the hosts, while he is expected to take up Conor Gallagher’s place in the eleven with Eze moving into a number ten role. Patrick Vieira was quick to point our Doucouré’s abilities on the ball, “He did really well. He’s a player who still needs to grow and believe in himself even more. But you can see he’s really comfortable on the ball and switched his game quick enough for us.”
Patrick also sounded excited about Eze’s new role in the team: “It’s about the number of minutes [he plays]. He played a lot of friendly games and is in really good shape. There’s no doubt about his quality. He can create goals, he can score goals, and again on the other side – how can we help the team to defend better?
“I think today you can see he’s really focusing and concentrated on his position out of possession and he’s playing with belief and confidence.”
One of the big misses for Crystal Palace will be Micheal Olise who is yet to take part in pre-season with foot injury. New signing Sam Johnstone will accompany James Mcarthur on the sidelines with thigh and groin injuries respectively.
For the visitors, all of Emile Smith-Rowe, Kieran Tierney, Takehiro Tomiyasu, and Fabio Vieira are back in training and building fitness – wouldn’t expect any of them to feature against Palace. Though a late substitute bow could be on line for either of them.
Being a Gunner at heart, Zaha always has something to prove when he faces Arsenal.
Wilfried Zaha has been a nightmare to deal with for Arsenal at times and his ability to carry the ball through on possessions and transitions is something that the Gunners will be weary about. He has been in decent touch in the pre-season and facing Arsenal at Selhurst Park on Premier League opening day should lit up his eyes as it sets precedent to build on for his season.
Eze, a former Gunner looking to prove his abilities to a club that let him go when he was 13!
Eberechi Eze has shown a lot of positives in the pre-season being deployed in the number 10 role. He is a menace in transitions, especially when it comes to by-pass and play the final ball. If Palace get minutes on the ball, Eze will be the creative outlet they will rely on.
Being regarded as a nightmare to play against in Ligue 1, Doucouré will have an important role to play if Palace were to win the game in the midfield. He has great athletic abilities and yet is very composed on the ball, which will make him an outlet for centre-backs when Crystal Palace are to build up short from the goalkeeper. And winning the second balls if they are to build up long. Doucouré will have an important role to play in Crystal Palace’s midfield.
Gabriel Jesus can carry the ball, shield it and play others through. What not can this boy do?
His structural involvement will be as important as his outputs. His movements can cause trouble and open up the blocks and that’s where a keen eye should be kept on. When (Arsenal) on sustained possession, Palace won’t allow much unless someone like Gabriel Jesus stretch’s the play and create space for the offensive lines. He has been a catalyst to doing so all pre-season and it’s time to get down to business and do the same at Selhurst Park on Friday. And maybe, Arsenal’s phone bill will have another directory at the end of it.
The Mbappe of defenders has been waiting on lines to make his mark for Arsenal for a long time and he finally gets his opportunity to feature in the Premier League, having impressed pre-season long.
Saliba will be critical to block transitions and attack-overloads with his recovery pace, 1v1 & aerial ability. Especially if Zaha were to come through of Ben White, Saliba has to be a stumbling block to negate Wilfried to pick anything more from such transitions. He also has shown decent ability to pick progressive passes which may also come of use.
When the sun shines on Ødegaard, it shines on Arsenal!
Arsenal’s newly appointed captain is the baron to them putting in short-passes to build on in the final third. his use of spaces and halfspaces can also prove to be hurting for Palace. While if Palace are down on the block, Ødegaard is expected to come deep for progressive passes and/or carries.
Crystal Palace Predicted XI vs Arsenal: Guaita, Ward, Andersen, Guehi, Mitchell, Schlupp, Doucoure, Eze, Zaha, Edouard, Ayew.
Arsenal Predicted XI vs Crystal Palace: Ramsdale, White, Gabriel, Saliba, Zinchenko, Xhaka, Partey, Odegaard, Martinelli, Jesus, Saka.
(written with due help of: @Twitter: jainil1701, rahulmcfc, EBL2017)