After the three points were confirmed against Fulham last weekend, I gave a little fist pump in the air in my kitchen to myself. That felt like a big win. I immediately started thinking about this weekend. “If we can beat Palace and Leeds, then we’ll be in a really good position to go for this title, I reckon” I said to myself. If I think about matches in little blocks, this game today feels like the end of a ‘block’ for us and a victory over an ailing Palace side would be a fantastic way to respond to the defeat of Thursday. I looked at both Fulham and Palace matches together and it felt like the game against Fulham was going to be a really hard match for us; travelled to Lisbon, travelling to a team who have been good at home in West London, it felt like last weekend’s game was a much harder proposition than this weekend.
But now we’re here at the Palace game, I feel like this is a lot tougher than my mind was telling me it would be last week, regardless of their form and the fact they’ve got a caretaker manager in charge. Palace have struggled for goals, they have not looked great in most of their recent matches and they’ve also been struggling to even register shots. So on paper you’d think that this should be a routine win for us. But there’s something about Crystal Palace that has seen them cause us real problems again and again at home and away. Indeed, the recent form guide against Palace suggests that they could very easily get something from this game; in the last nine matches they have won two, drawn five and lost just twice. They’ve picked up three draws in a row against us and we were defeated before that at home. In fact you have to go back to 2018 to find Arsenal’s last win against Palace at home. Yes sir, they have the hoodoo over us and that’s another reason why I have the nerves about today’s game.
I think I’m also nervous because of the type of game we’re going to get. Palace are going to sit in, try to be compact, then with the paid players they have at their disposal like Zaha and Olise, they’ll look to hit us on the counter. We’ve seen plenty of games this season in which teams have low blocked us and frustrated us, so I’m not expecting an easy game in the slightest today. When you add to that the fact that we’ve got a few injuries to concern ourselves with, it just gives me a wee bit of unease, I have to say. Tomiyasu would definitely be out and if the French media is to be believed (and we have no reason to suggest otherwise – Saliba will be out for this game and potentially ‘a few weeks’ too. There is an international break which will hopefully mean he can rest up and be ready for Leeds, but the injury to Tomi as well makes this a little more uncomfortable for me. That’s because if Tomi was fit, you’d expect he’d come in as right back or the right centre half alongside Ben White. That would be ‘no problem’ for me, but with both Tomiyasu and Saliba out, it probably means we’re going to have to deal with Rob Holding playing at centre half. As I’ve said before Rob Holding the person seems like a nice guy, but Rob Holding the defender worries me when up against Pacey forwards. If you’re Eduoard or Olise you’re looking to target Holding because it’ll be a lot easier to get in behind him than it would be for Gabriel. I expect us to have a lot of the ball today and naturally be pressed further up the pitch. Can you imagine the problems we’ll face if the ball gets turned over and Rob Holding is the one in a foot race with Zaha, Eduoard or Olise? I can tell you now if that happens then we’re looking at Ramsdale to save us on the one-on-ones. Stick Rob Holding in his own box and tell him to head the ball away and he’s fine. Stick him on the halfway line and getting him running at pace towards his own goal and it’s a bit of a disaster.
Which is why we need to make sure we don’t over commit today. We need to be ball dominant, we need to probe and press and find the gaps in their defence, but not do it at the expense of leaving too much space at the back.
As for the rest of the team, you’d expect a lot of it to pick itself. Partey to anchor the midfield, Xhaka left, Odegaard right, Saka, Trossard and Martinelli in the front three with Jesus as a second half option along with the likes of Fabio Vieira and Emile Smith Rowe. We will create chances – we shoul, anyway – but it might be a day for patience rather than expectation that we’ll blow away a team who are in a poor run of form. Paddy McCarthy is in charge and he is an unknown quantity; will he employ similar tactical approaches to Vieira or will he mix it up and therefore that unknown quantity surprises Arsenal today? We just don’t know.
So at times like this I then automatically defer to what we do know about Palace, which you can see born out in some of the stats. They have the second worst xG in the league – so they don’t create many high quality chances. They’ve got just 20 goals all season – the joint worst. But in defence they sit midtable in terms of chances they allow and in Andersen and Guehi they have two good centre halves who are good with the ball and know how to defend their box. And they will pick up cards, having picked up the most of any team this season. So I’m expecting them to be tough in the tackle and probably giving a fair few fouls away. They are the fourth worst team in terms of number of progressive passes and carries. You’d expect them to therefore go longer from the back but they sit in mid table from that perspective, so they are unlikely to just lump the ball up to a big target striker all day like Brentford do, for example. So I can’t really work out what style of football they play based on some of the numbers. Which is probably why Vieira has gone to be honest with you.
So, in short, I really don’t know what sort of Palace we are up against today and that is probably also adding to my nerves. Hopefully the first 10-15 minutes can assuage that and we can go ahead, because I think if we score first, score quick and start well, it might force them to abandon any game plan for low block that they have. But I guess we’ll have to see.
I am entertaining the mother and mother-in-laws today so can’t make the game, but I’ll certainly be glued to my TV when 2pm hits. If you’re going, make sure you do your bit and sing up for The Arsenal.
Catch you all tomorrow.
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