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ARSENAL

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CRYSTAL PALACE

Emirates Stadium, North London

August 16th, 2014;  16:30 GMT

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UPDATE: The Hard Tackle are aware that Tony Pulis’ has left Crystal Palace. Though he no longer manages the club, in all likelihood, Palace will play in a similar style as they had under Pulis, as there is little time to change switch the club to a new style. Given this, the preview, despite its mentions of Tony Pulis is likely still relevant to the match that will be played on Saturday.

Arsenal will open the 2014-15 English Premier League season by hosting Crystal Palace at the Emirates. Both teams come into this season with a bit of optimism. Arsenal won the FA Cup and improved the squad with a group of signings led by Alexis Sanchez. Crystal Palace, who looked like favorites for relegation at early in the 2013-14 season, turned their fortunes around by hiring Tony Pulis and changing their playing style. With Palace under Pulis unlikely to have to fight a relegation battle, this match means more for Arsenal as they attempt to compete with Chelsea and Manchester City for the league title.

Team New and Tactics

Arsenal

With Arsenal’s German contingent returning to training on August 11th, none of them will be available for the opening match of the Premier League season. Ryo Miyaichi and Theo Walcott both have long-term injuries that will likely keep them out of the side until late September, at the earliest. Serge Gnabry is also set to miss this match. Newly signed goalkeeper David Ospina still suffers from a hamstring injury, and this means that Damian Martinez will find a place on the bench as back-up goalkeeper. Finally, it appears that Laurent Koscielny will be fit enough to start, allowing Arsenal to avoid playing Nacho Monreal and Calum Chambers together at the center of defense.

Going into this match, Arsenal should look somewhat similar to the side that started in their victory against Manchester City in the Community Shield. In a potential 4-1-4-1 formation Wojciech Szczesny will start in goal. In front of him, Arsenal should have Mathieu Debuchy at right-back, Calum Chambers and Laurent Koscielny at center back, and Kieran Gibbs at left-back.  In front of the back line, Mikel Arteta will play as the holding midfield, with Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere in front of him (though Arsene Wenger could start Tomas Rosicky to protect Wilshere from the aggressive and physical play of Mile Jedinak). Out wide, Santi Cazorla would play on the left and Alexis Sanchez would play on the right. At the front, Arsenal may start Olivier Giroud instead of Yaya Sanogo, given that the Frenchman has increased his match fitness since last Sunday.

One of the main problems Arsenal will have to deal with is the deep and organized defending of Crystal Palace. With Alexis Sanchez in the side, Arsenal have a player who can break down a defense with individual skill. Against this type of side, especially without the intelligent movement of Mesut Ozil, the Chilean could prove to Arsenal’s most valuable attacking asset on the pitch. As a team, Arsenal should look to move the quickly ball laterally, in order to drag Crystal Palace’s defense out of position, creating openings that can be exploited by diagonal passes.

Arsenal also need to avoid the quick counters that Crystal Palace can spring. The Gunners should look to avoid crossing the ball. Given the size of Crystal Palace’s center backs, crossing serves as a way to give Palace the ball. Given the pace of their wingers, Arsenal’s fullbacks have to understand and adapt to the threat. With Laurent Koscielny and Calum Chambers lacking experience playing together, Arsenal should look to provide them cover, so to avoid situations when the two central defenders are defending two, three, or four attackers by themselves.  If Arsenal can limit the opportunities and the effectiveness of Palace on the counter, then the Eagles will find it difficult to score, as they are not set up to break down organized defenses.

Possible Starting Line-up (4-1-4-1):  Szczesny (GK); Debuchy, Chambers, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta; Sanchez, Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla; Giroud

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Crystal Palace

Adrian Mariappa may be fit for this match, but given that Crystal Palace have other fit defenders they can play, it is unlikely that he will start in this match. Damien Delaney appears to still be suffering from a knock he received in Palace’s pre-season tour in the United States. He may not play in the opener due to that injury.

Crystal Palace will probably continue with their tight and deep-defending 4-4-1-1 formation that brought they so much success last season. Julian Speroni will play in goal, with a probably back line of Joel Ward at right-back, Scott Dann and Brede Hangeland at center back, and Jerome Williams at left-back. In front of him, Pulis will likely favor a midfield pairing of Mile Jedinak and Joe Ledley with Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie on the wings. Marouane Chamakh will play in front of midfield, operating in a No. 10 kind of role, looking to feed the ball forward to Frazier Campbell.

As with any Pulis’ team, their success will depend on their ability to defend as a unit and counter-attack quickly. With Jerome Williams at left-back, Palace may have a weak point in their defense. They may need to find ways to protect the 19 year-old, especially if he finds himself 1-v-1 with Alexis Sanchez. This may require Yannick Bolasie to play a more defensive role than he normally does. This means that Jason Puncheon’s performance becomes much more important for Palace. With Bolasie having more to do defensively, Palace need their other pacey winger to make a big contribution to their counter attacks, either carrying the ball forward or making forward runs. With Arsenal’s fullbacks having the tendency to get caught high up the pitch, there may be space that Puncheon must exploit for Palace to score goals, especially to score that important first goal. Finally, one has yet to see how well Chamakh and Campbell function together. With the Chamakh-to-center forward connection playing an important role in Palace’s success last season, Chamakh and Campbell need to be on the same page about how to attack the Arsenal back line. Otherwise, many potentially promising counter-attacking opportunities could amount to nothing.

Possible Starting Line-up (4-4-1-1): Speroni (GK); Ward, Dann, Hangeland, Williams; Puncheon; Jedinak, Ledley, Bolasie; Chamakh; Campbell

Key Facts

  • This season represents the first time Palace have played back-to-back seasons in the English Premier League
  • Arsenal have not won their first match of the season since the opener to the 2009-2010 season, when they beat Everton, 6-1.
  • In the 2013-14 season, Mile Jedinak was second in tackles per game (3.5), first in interceptions per game (3.7), and was sixth in aerial duels won per game (4.4) (stats from Whoscored.com).
  • Crystal Palace scored 33 goals last season, which is the fewest goals Crystal Palace have scored in any complete domestic league season, at any level, in their history.
  • Arsenal spent 128 days on top of the English Premier League last season.

Player to Watch

Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)

Sanchez will again be pivotal to Chile's attacks

Sanchez will again be pivotal to Chile’s attacks

With Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil unavailable for Arsenal, Alexis Sanchez will have to shoulder some of the creative and goal-scoring burden for Arsenal in this match. Against a compact and organized defense like Palace, Arsenal could struggle to break their opponent down, especially if their passing is too slow or inaccurate and if they become too static. Alexis Sanchez’s combination of perpetual motion and dribbling ability should help Arsenal not become too static in possession and provide them a way of attack that does not require their pass-and-move game to function at its best. Over the course of the seasons, individualistic actions by Sanchez could help Arsenal earn points matches when it appears Arsenal have run out of ideas and look unlikely to score. Finally, this game is part of a greater race to get the new signings integrated and performing as well as their can, as quickly as possible. If Arsenal wish to challenge for the title, then the quicker they can start extracting maximum value out of their biggest summer signing, the better.

Prediction

Arsenal 2-1 Crystal Palace

This game will probably come down to who scores first. If Arsenal score first, Palace will be forced to come out of their defensive shell. If Palace score first, then they can double down on their defensive efforts, making it harder for Arsenal to score. With Arsenal’s offensive firepower, even without Mesut Ozil, they should be favorites to score the first goal. With the pace of Sanchez and the late forward runs of Aaron Ramsey, Palace could find themselves in a world of trouble if they find themselves down in this match. Ultimately, it could very well play out like their second match of the 2013-14 season, with Palace defending well in the first half, and Arsenal figuring out how to attack Palace’s defensive structure.

Blast From the Past