MATCH PREVIEW: Arsenal Kickoff 30th Premier League Season With Trip to Crystal Palace
After just 75 days the 2022/23 Premier League campaign kicks off with Arsenal facing Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Arsenal are coming off an impressive preseason, which included 4-0 and 6-0 victories over Chelsea and Sevilla respectively with new talisman Gabriel Jesus off to a hot start in his Arsenal career.
Arsenal made some significant splashes in the transfer market this summer, spending £120 million thus far highlighted by the £45 million signing of Gabriel Jesus from Manchester City. If the preseason is indicative of how he’ll perform this season, then I’d say he has a decent shout of nearing 20 league goals this season.
After years of disappointing summer transfer windows, the progress made the past 12 months has completely turned the tide for the fanbase. Arsenal fans’ excitement for the club is at a near-decade high and expectations are for Mikel Arteta to finally get the team back into the Champions League after nearly 6 year absence.
About the Hosts
In his first season in charge, Palace boss Patrick Viera led the The Eagles to a 12th place finish in the Premier League, including wins over Arsenal, Manchester City, and Tottenham, and implemented a very attractive style of football to south London.
Last season, Palace played an aggressive play style, often utilizing loanee Conor Gallagher as a pressing #10 which disrupted the oppositions ability to build out through the middle. Wilfried Zaha had a career year, scoring 14 league goals and his well-known physicality fit perfectly into Patrick Viera’s system.
This summer, Palace have brought in two key signings which should further strengthen an already promising project that is being built in south London. Cheick Doucouré, a 22-year-old defensive midfielder signed from Lens for £22 million, will certainly play a big role in midfield this season after the departure of Gallagher and Cheikhou Kouyate this summer. Chris Richards, a 22-year-old center back who made his senior debut for Bayern Munich at only 18, was signed for £10 million from the Bundesliga giants and will be interesting to see how he adjusts to life in the Premier League this season. When speaking to media after Richards preseason debut, Viera said Richards will be an “an important asset” for the football club.
There is some concern that their split squad approach to the pre-season may have left them a little unprepared for the start of the campaign but that wasn’t evident in their 4-2 win over Montpellier on their last day of their preparation. Expected to replace the departed Gallagher is Eberechi Eze, he and the rest of the midfield will likely take some time to bed in as they get used to the roles Vieira is asking them to play.
Vieira’s Palace like to operate in a 4-3-3 with a single pivot and two 8s in the midfield. When the progress the ball forward into the opposition half, the back 4 shifts to a back 3 with either Ward or Clyne tucking in to provide extra protection. While the right sided FB tucks in the left side goes forward to provide additional attacking support. The attacking threat c comes from the team pushing – to the right with the winger hugging the touch line, the central forward working to hold up and link play, with the left side forward (Zaha) coming centrally and then the left sided Fullback coming wide. (see image below)
The aim is to force the defensive unit to get narrow leaving space in behind on the blind side allowing for a quick switch of play. When they do attack and get into the final third they will fill the box with support coming deep in the midfield from the two 8s.
Off the ball, Vieira’s side buck the trend of hyper-pressing and prefer to resort to a 4-5-1 denying the opposition space and channels to effectively move the ball. They are a disciplined defensive unit. In the midblock the effort is used to snuff out any central play and deny forward passes into the striker. In the final third, they look to create numerical advantages with a compact structure working to deny the opposition any clear cut chances on goal.
The Arsenal Approach
When we faced them at he end of last season it may have been one of the more frustrating games of the season. Defensively we looked inept and our attack looked toothless. But that was then this is now. Arsenal’s pre-season has shown a few different things, first it has shown a more rigid defense that has effectively locked threats to taking chances from high-risk areas of the pitch – forcing play either wide or centrally outside the 18. Throughout the pre-season any threat that moved centrally you progressively saw efforts to not give shooters time and space to operate.
Most impressive though was how solid the press had become with the addition of Gabriel Jesus. He’s aggressive and quick and knows how to close down the passing angles. While Laca could do this to an extent it was never consistently aggressive enough to shut down play. Added to that during pre-season we saw improvement in taking away the second pass. Often times last season, Arsenal would employ the press only to have an easy option to play out to available. This seems to have been worked on and overall Arsenal’s pressing effort looks a lot more structured and assertive.
But its on the ball that is where we could expect to see the biggest difference in our match up against Palace.
The biggest change is the fluidity of movement of the front 3 with the addition of Gabriel Jesus to it. Jesus adds movement and creativity to an attack that seemed devoid of it. Add that to the quality of Martinelli and Saka and Arsenal have as threatening an attack as they’ve had in a long while. But the attacking effort expands beyond that.
When Arsenal attack now they are looking to actively get 5 men into the box. The 8 (Xhaka) joins Odegaard and the attacking three in the box. The midfield becomes two tucked in fullbacks along with Partey. This not provides ability to get the ball back into the box but offers additional defensive cover should the opposition try and counter.
All in all, Arsenal have added to the weakest part of their squad which was the attacking threat. The key for them however may not be anything tactically related. It is likely o be in their heads. Have they matured enough, gained enough experience to learn how to manage a hostile ground like Selhurst park. Last season they didn’t have it and it showed in every facet of the game.
If they can manage that and play with confidence along with the tactical and squad tweaks we’ve seen this year, they should be alright. Should be, being the operative term.
What to Expect
Talking with the folks over at Eagles Beak they called the Palace pre-season “messy.” It didn’t seem to go as well as hoped. Still, Selhurst Park is not a friendly place to play and Vieira has done well and has another year with his team under his belt. They are still transitioning and haven’t hit on cylinders yet. Conversely, Arsenal are purring. They wanted to use the pre-season to peak and be ready for the first match of the season and watching each progression of matches, it seems they have managed that. The match is still likely to be a tight affair and but I like our chances on this to break out of the Crystal Palace voodoo and come out with 3 points. Call it 2-1 to the Arsenal
What the Manager Says (courtesy Arsenal.com)
On the excitement for the new season and new signings…
I think we are all enthusiastic. We had the pre-season that we wanted, it was well organised, we had good results, good performances, good preparation, but now the ball starts to roll to tomorrow evening in a completely different context against a Premier League team and we know what to expect there. But it’s true, we are with a level of energy and ambition to have a successful season and we have to show that on the pitch tomorrow night.
On the expectation on Jesus…
When you bring top players, they are coming from top clubs and they have been extremely successful over the years, they’re going to expect that. The role that Gabby has here is going to be very different to the role that Gabby had in his previous club. That needs some adaptation and some time. He’s done it fantastically well and we’re all surprised how quickly he’s done it, but we have to share that responsibility and he’s an enormous talent, a player with a mentality that is so contagious and he’s going to give us a lot, but it’s a team contribution at the end of the day.
Arsenal’s Probable Lineup
Arsenal Record vs Opponent (League only)
14 W 8 D 4 L
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Assistants: Gary Beswick, Adam Nunn
Fourth Official: Peter Bankes
VAR: Darren England
Assistant VAR: James Mainwaring
Match Facts (courtesy bbc.co.uk)
- Arsenal have lost their opening Premier League match in five of the last nine seasons (W4), including a 2-0 defeat to Brentford last term.
- This is the third successive season that the Gunners have started their top-flight campaign with a London derby.
- Mikel Arteta’s side have failed to keep a clean sheet in each of their last 10 league fixtures.
- Bukayo Saka was the top league scorer last season with 11 goals – it’s the joint-lowest total by an Arsenal player in the Premier League since Robin van Persie also scored 11 in 2006-07 and 2008-09.
- Gabriel Jesus scored six goals and recorded one assist in his final seven league games for Manchester City.
- Crystal Palace have lost one of their past eight Premier League meetings with Arsenal (W2, D5).
- The Eagles are aiming to win consecutive league games against the Gunners for the first time after a 3-0 home victory in April.
- That victory over Arsenal last season was their joint-biggest home win of the campaign, having also beaten Tottenham and Norwich by the same scoreline.