Three Things We Learned From Palace 0 – 2 Arsenal
The 2022-2023 Premier League season kicked off for Arsenal on Friday night with a lovely 2-0 road win against bogey team, Crystal Palace. A 21st minute goal by Gabriel Martinelli was capped off with a late own goal to give the visiting Gunners all three points.
All eyes were on this match at Arsenal yet again featuring in the seasonal kickoff. When the schedule came out and looked favorably upon Mikel Arteta’s team, it was this match that caused everyone to have a bout of anxiety.
In fact, in the last 10 years (starting in 2011) Arsenal are 3W 6L 2D before last night, so in general, opening day can be a bit of a nightmare for Gooners. But Friday night that was all put aside as the new campaign kicked off.
We kick off this season with our first edition of Three Things We Learned.
William Saliba as Good as Billed
Since his appointment for manager, Arteta has come under criticism from corners on his relationship with young French Centerback. Arteta it was constantly said didn’t know what he was doing by having the young player go off on loan. The criticisms were often more colorful than that but if you’ve been on social media long enough you probably know that.
If Mikel Arteta loudly shouted, “see I told you so,” last night, he would’ve likely been forgiven for that moment of smugness especially as he and Edu watched their development plan pay off in spades.
It is only one league match but when you combine it with what we saw through the preseason and last night, its hard not think that the young French man was handled was perfectly handled. In fact in the wake of his performance on Friday the player himself credited his loan move for better preparing him for this Premier League Debut.
“It helped me to spend three years on loan in France. I am young, I needed to play.
In his first game of the season, Saliba walked away with Man of the Match honors. And a performance that belied his 21 years.
The centerback was non-plussed by the occasion and the picture of serenity for the entirety of the 90 minutes he was on the pitch. He put in two goal saving tackles inside the 6-yard box that in the past more reckless players would’ve given away penalties on. His aerial ability, once considered a weakness in his game, was the best on the pitch with 100% win rate. His passing and understanding of play was if he had been here for years.
Critical to Arsenal winning the match were two incredible sliding tackles that were clean and effective and last minute. You would’ve forgiven every Arsenal supporter for holding their breath on that as in the past we’ve seen too many centerbacks completely botch it and hurt the team with poorly timed tackles in the box. But not the Frenchmen, they were absolute class.
As the match wore on and came to a conclusion he was perhaps the stand out as no one was more active, winning more duels and getting engaged more than him. There are likely tougher times ahead and knowing Arsenal supporters as we do, there will be come critics when he makes a mistake, but we should make no mistake about it, we have a rising star on our hands. This was the first of many such performances.
Arsenal Are Still Improving
As we mentioned before, opening day of the season hasn’t exactly been a great time for Arsenal in the last ten years. So getting a win and kicking off the season the right way was important for the Gunners and their campaign this season. They tore through a pre-season and really those performances showed a lot of promise but as with everything that happens before a ball is kicked in anger, it has to be taken with a grain of salt.
For the first 20 or so minutes on Friday, Arsenal looked heads and tales above where they’d been last season. The movement and rotation on and off the ball was fluid and creating a lot of opportunities for Arsenal to progress the ball forward. One commentator said it was like watching City or Liverpool in how they attack teams. On the surface that is high praise but as time showed, there is still a road to travel for Arsenal.
The one adjustment that changed the game for Arsenal was Palace getting their two deeper midfielders to cover and shadow Odegaard, essentially taking him out of play.. Early on, he was finding space in the midfield and having his way. The link play from the backs to Partey to Odegaard was consistently used, until after the adjustment.
It forced Arsenal wide and most of player went through those wide channels make the chances created riskier.
Additionally, we seemed to get tired as the match wore on. And that became problematic. We got lazy with the ball, we weren’t maintaining pressure long enough to get us out of pressure and when we did, our possession was meaningless. That will have to improve.
What didn’t happen though was us falling apart. We didn’t really let them back in. Sure they had pressure and sure they got some threatening moves but outside of two fantastic saves by Ramsdale there weren’t any real threatening chances on goal.
That is a massive improvement even over last year. In that run that saw us miss out on top 4, we had issues most significantly in a our low block, as we dropped deeper into our own box. Responsibilities were dropped and players missed. That wasn’t the case on Friday.
Yeah sure its early days but its a promising sign. Sure, the real measure of growth will be how we handle teams like Liverpool and City but let’s enjoy what we’ve seen so far.
Vanquishing Bogey Teams
Crystal Palace are a good team and they are going to steal points from bigger clubs this year. They will no longer be the push overs that they have been in the past. That being said in order for Arsenal to regain a chance at top 4 it has to pick up points from teams it probably shouldn’t have lost last season.
We dropped 5 points against Palace last season. Given that we missed out on top 4 by 2 points that’s pretty costly. Already we’ve picked up 3 points with the return fixture at our home where I like out chances. But it is these type of matches against these types of teams that Arsenal need to do better.
Last season we did well against teams at the bottom half to the table. We struggled against well coached mid teams with a rough estimate being 50-50 on the outcomes of those matches and we did alright against the top teams, except for Pool and City.
Is those matches we let get away from us that we have to improve upon and if Friday is any indication we may be able to do that this season. If we are going to get top 4, then its going to be important.
Patrick Vieira remains one of Arsenal’s most beloved past players. So it was great to hear the away supporters sing his name and honor him. That’s some serious love. He’s done alright at Palace. I hope he truly can get them deep into a Cup run because I think he’s built himself quite a solid team. It will be nice to see how the do, except against us.