Arsenal v Crystal Palace
Kick off: August 16th, 2014 17.30 PM BST
Tick-tock, tick-tock…or is it more like tick———————————-tock? Time is running too slow, my dear Gooners, as we anxiously wait the start of the league campaign. We have won two trophies in the space of three months, we have signed a world-class attacker in Alexis Sánchez and kept our best players away from the paws of Barcelona, Real Madrid and other predators.
Our first game is home to Crystal Palace and is set to be an interesting one. Their manager Tony Pulis – the man who has done everything to erase all differences between football and American football – decided to leave the club after his demands regarding new players hadn’t been accepted. Truth be told, Pulis did a magnificent job with Crystal Palace last season. They had just four points from eleven games before he took over and drove them close to the top half of the table. It seems that Pulis wanted to improve the squad to avoid another relegation battle but he wasn’t allowed, hence he decided to leave.
Speaking of transfers, Palace have signed three experienced players this summer. Two of them should improve their defensive line – Brede Hangeland, who scored a winning goal for Fulham against us six years ago, signed for The Eagles from the relegated Fulham side while Martin Kelly, a right full-back, has been signed from Liverpool. Hangeland is a tall guy who can be a threat at set-pieces. Actually I see him as the biggest threat for our goal. We conceded three goals during preseason and all three of them happened after set-pieces, most likely due to absence of Per Mertesacker who won’t play tomorrow either. That’s why we need to prevent the visitors from creating set-pieces. A stupid foul that leads to an indirect free-kick and a poor clearance that leads to a corner might pose a much bigger threat than their creative department.
Their most dangerous attacking-minded player is Jason Puncheon who scored seven goals last season. Puncheon did us a great favour last season – he scored a goal and created another in the 3:2 victory over Everton at Goodison Park which gave us a chance to pip Everton for fourth place. The third addition of Fraizer Campbell, who has an international cap by his name, will have to fight for a spot in the attack with our flop Marouane Chamakh, the interesting Dwight Gayle (who turned everyone’s attention on him after scoring two goals in a six-goal-thriller against Liverpool that effectively ended their title chances last season) and a hero of their Championship campaign Glenn Murray who had spent most of the time on the sidelines last season.
Campbell’s contribution in Cardiff’s poor campaign last season was hardly drop-dead-impressive – 6 goals in 37 matches. It gets more interesting, however, when you see that he scored five of those goals against Top 7 teams (three in two games against Manchester City, one against Liverpool and one against Manchester United) and was close to scoring another against us but an incredible save from Wojciech Szczesny prevented Campbell’s equalizer.
In both fixtures last season Arsenal won with the same 2:0 score-line but neither of those victories came easy. In the reverse fixture, Arteta slotted a penalty earned by Gnabry only to get a red card for the professional foul on Chamakh at the early stage of the second half. Szczesny pulled a few excellent saves (the most impressive one came after a volley from the captain Mile Jedinak) before Olivier Giroud scored a late header to seal our victory. At the Emirates, we needed two goals in the second half from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to win the game against the well-organized visitors.
Our players will have to be totally focused on their opponents. We haven’t had too many nice memories from the opening matches lately and a victory against Crystal Palace would be a great way to start the title challenge. Or, to be more precise, the only acceptable way to do it. We broke neither the resilient Sunderland side two years ago nor the referees’ favourites Aston Villa last year and that’s where we lost important points at the very beginning.
Now, given how tough our fixture list until 5th October looks, a victory over The Eagles is the only option. It would be a message to all our opponents that The Fortress Emirates is where thou shall not get anything but humiliation and defeat.
Olivier Giroud should build on that brilliant goal against Manchester City and score on the opening day of the league again – only with a different final score of course. Alexis might want to open his account as soon as possible in order to avoid stupid comments from the press and pundits.
Given the team news, it’s most likely that Wojciech Szczesny will start his own campaign to claim The Golden Glove as David Ospina is still injured and even he wasn’t, Szczesny would be the first choice for this game. Debuchy and Gibbs will operate on the flanks and will have to take special care of the opponents’ wingers. Chambers and Koscielny will play in the middle of the defence while Arteta and Ramsey will be in front of them in midfield.
Now, it’s always an enigma who will start as our attacking quartet. Alexis and Cazorla on the flanks, Wilshere behind the lone striker Giroud? Or, Alexis on the left, Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right, Cazorla in the hole and Giroud as the lone striker? Alexis in the attack, Chambo on the right, Cazorla on the left, Wilshere in the hole? Or even Ramsey in the hole and Wilshere in the deeper role? And what about the active and dangerous Yaya Sanogo, not to mention Joel Campbell? It’s a great thing to have so many exciting options at our disposal.
When it comes to a predicted score, my head says we are going to have a tough match against a resilient side that learned how to defend tight under Pulis. They might be shocked with his departure though so we should have no excuses but beat them. My head also says that our players might be a bit nervous in their desire to comply with the expectations of the crowd and a conceded goal from a set-piece (Hangeland?) wouldn’t be a surprise either. Nevertheless, we have enough quality to reply with at least three goals. My heart agrees only partially and says we are going to record a comfortable victory.
My head’s prediction: 3:1 for us.
My heart’s prediction: 5:1 for us.
So, it’s 4:1 to the Gunners then.
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 02 Feb 2014 Arsenal FC 2 – Crystal Palace 0
Premier League (EPL) 26 Oct 2013 Crystal Palace 0 – Arsenal FC 2
Premier League (EPL) 14 Feb 2005 Arsenal FC 5 – Crystal Palace 1
Premier League (EPL) 6 Nov 2004 Crystal Palace 1 – Arsenal FC 1
FA Cup Replay (FAC) 25 Feb 1998 Crystal Palace 1 – Arsenal FC 2
Debuchy Chambers Koscielny Gibbs
Arteta (c) Ramsey
Alexis Cazorla Wilshere
Arsenal 4 v 1 Crystal Palace