Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsene Wenger's side begin their Premier League campaign at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
Tony Pulis was named Premier League Manager of the Season in May, despite the fact he only took charge of Crystal Palace in November. That summarises his superb transformation of the club, from relegation dead certs to comfortably mid-table by the end of the campaign.
Whereas his predecessor Ian Holloway encouraged attacking football at the expense of defensive structure, Pulis is the complete opposite. Palace now play a very cautious game, but the organisation at the back is quite magnificent - they’re compact, narrow, hard-working and defend resiliently in two banks of four.
"Right back Adrian Mariappa and left-sided utility man Joel Ward remain very narrow, defending the penalty box keenly"
Whereas Pulis became renowned for encouraging hard tackling and long balls at Stoke City, this hasn’t been obvious at Palace - his players have simply defended astutely and counter-attacked swiftly.
The previous meeting between these two sides, Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace here in February thanks to an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain double, was a good example of the Eagles’ defensive solidity. From the outset they played extremely deep, soaking up pressure and allowing Arsenal time on the ball in defensive positions, slowing the tempo of the game.
Former Gunner Marouane Chamakh man-marked Mikel Arteta, preventing him from starting Arsenal’s attacks, while the midfield quartet stayed extremely close together, making it difficult for Arsenal to penetrate that unit and find space between the lines. Instead, Arsenal had to go wide to the full backs, with Palace happy to defend crosses. There’s unlikely to be a major transformation this season, with few major arrivals thus far.
One notable signing, however, is former Fulham centre back Brede Hangeland. The 33-year-old lacks mobility, but is a towering aerial presence, and should seamlessly slot into a deep defence. However, the pairing of Scott Dann and Damien Delaney worked excellently last season, and boasts a nice right- and left-footed balance too, so Hangeland might have to wait for opportunities.
Meanwhile right back Adrian Mariappa and left-sided utility man Joel Ward remain very narrow, defending the penalty box keenly.
"Chamakh seems likely to play as a support striker again, primarily concentrating on stopping the opposition midfield"
Pulis’ two central midfielders rarely break into attack, especially away from home. Captain Mile Jedinak is Palace’s best player, and led the Premier League in terms of both tackles (133) and interceptions (139) last season - he’s a classic destroyer. Alongside him, Joe Ledley offers more guile in possession, and looks to feed the wide players.
Jason Puncheon will start on the right and charges into the box to offer a goal threat - he managed six goals after Christmas last season, of which four were openers. On the opposite flank, Yannick Bolasie is the opposite, a pure winger. He’s a tricky dribbler and converts defence into attack smoothly, but failed to find the net in 29 league appearances last term.
Chamakh seems likely to play as a support striker again, primarily concentrating on stopping the opposition midfield, but also drifting forward to support the main attacker. Frazier Campbell arrives from Cardiff and is a classic Pulis striker - hard-working but not particularly prolific.
Alternatively, Dwight Gayle scored four goals in the final two games of his debut Premier League campaign, and would offer more pace in behind Arsenal’s centre backs.
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