Saturday August 16th
5:45pm Kick Off
Arsenal V Crystal Palace
Well the time has certainly flown since that glorious cup-winning day in May and it`s hard to believe that the new season is almost upon us. I suppose thanks are due to the World Cup which served up an excellent football starter for the main course to come! We all feeling the right level of excitement and expectation combined with ridiculous levels of optimism? We are? Good well then let`s begin.
By the time we kick off our Premier League campaign 2014/15 we will already be 3 points off the top but such is life in the Sky/BT era. Tony Pulis and his team will make the short trip to the Emirates and he`ll be hopeful that he`ll catch us on the hop in a similar manner to how Villa did in the opening fixture twelve months ago.
Pulis did a quite remarkable job at Palace last year, coming into the club when they were rock bottom and somehow managing to drag them to a highly creditable 11th place. The football that they played during this run may not have been overly pretty on the eye and they certainly weren`t ever going to finish the league as top scorers but Pulis made them very difficult to beat and fostered a great sense of team spirit and belief at the club. For this achievement alone the team that comes to visit on Saturday should be respected.
Obviously not 100% happy with his squad he`s also made a few changes during the summer transfer window. Fraser Campbell from Cardiff, Brede Hangeland from Fulham and Scott Dann from Blackburn are all decent signings but it`s worth nothing that all three players would be playing their football outside of the Premier League if they hadn`t have moved to Palace.
In goal it looks increasingly likely that Seproni will be moving on as his contract is currently up and he`s looking at other options now that Hennessey seems to have gotten the nod as the #1 this season. I`ve never really had much faith in Hennessey as a keeper and think that Seproni is the better option however I`m not looking at them every day and you cannot question Pulis`s ability to judge the defensive qualities of a player.
Palace played a 4-4-2 or more 4-4-1-1 formation last season but listening to Pulis on MOTD after the Community Shield it was pretty clear that he didn`t fancy going 2 in midfield against Arsenal`s 3 so a 4-5-1 formation is more likely.
Right back will be the impressive Ward who needs to follow on last season`s performance with more of the same this year. At only 24 years old he`s a player to watch. The centre will consist of 2 from likely Gabbidon, Delaney and new signings Hangaland and Dann. Delaney has a slight knock so it may be an all new backline pairing of Hangeland and Dann. Both are solid defenders, good in the air but likely to struggle with pace. Mariappa is also a doubt for the weekend so the left back position may be open. I don`t think that they have a natural replacement for him at left back so
Bolaise may drop back or even Ledley may come in from midfield – maybe some CP fans can advise me of this one?
The middle will be anchored by the experienced Jedinak partnered by Ledley, a signing who came in from Celtic last January. I think for added protection against us Bannon will also play centrally and sit in front of the back four hoping to take up the space our midfielders run into. Their midfield is not particularly creative and tends to take the option of the long pass to the head of Chamahk whenever options are limited. But they are hard working and hard tackling, if Jack`s playing expect him to pick up plenty of kicks as his annoying tendency to hold onto the ball for too long shows no signs of abating.
Puncheton and, I`m guessing, Thomas will take the right and left wings with Thomas in particular getting forward to support the sole striker in Chamakh whenever possible. Fraser Campbell is an option to start but I think Pulis will keep him to throw on if there is anything worth chasing from the game rather than go all out for the victory at the start. They are supposedly looking at taking Gnarby on-loan for a few months and as good as he is I think this shows our squad strength just as much as it shows the weakness in theirs.
They will be physical and compact as a unit and above all will try to frustrate us and make the game as difficult as possible. They are not a dirty team and I think Pulis has shown a few people up in the style of football that Palace now play. While they are no Real Madrid they are clearly no Stoke.
However, there are flaws with the team. First of all they carry very little goal threat and you take out the front one (or two) and really bar free kicks and corners the midfield will contribute nothing goal wise. Score first against them and they will struggle. They also don`t hold onto the ball very well, their direct style of passing (hit the wings quickly and often) means that the ball is lost almost as soon as it`s won. And thirdly (and most importantly for us) they really lack pack at the back. Their defenders tend to sit quite deep so catching them out with a ball over the top will be difficult however if we can turn them at all they will struggle. Think of a backline of BFGs on Prozac. While it`s unlikely we will catch them on the break our quick passing in the box and quick thru-balls will be a key asset for us.
Their pre-season form has been ok (3 wins, 2 draws and a solitary defeat) but the standard of teams they have faced is not as impressive as ours. They had a remarkable 13-1 victory over Austrian side GAK Graz but when someone called Stephen Dobbie comes on and scores a hat-trick in five minutes I think you can begin to legitimately question the standard of the opposition. While I think they`ll come into the game in good physical shape they will not be as sharp as us and I think our game against Man City showed how hungry some of our players are.
Last season showed us the risks of not completing the job when scoring early and I`d like to think that as a club the Villa game will go down in history as a turning point for many reasons including the need for patience when fighting the urge to go all gung-ho for a second. I expect us to collect the 3 points and ultimately I expect the result to look more comfortable then the game actually was. I think we`ll score early and then have a lot of possession, survive a few scares before wrapping up the game with two more late goals. Will it be enough to take us to the top of the league? At this stage of the season three points is all that matters.
Arsenal to win 3-0.
Scout Report: Crystal Palace
Saturday August 16th