It has been a very long wait to see our boys in action but, finally, it will happen tomorrow. We are facing the Eagles at their turf and it will be hard to get all three points, let there be no doubt about that. An international break always disorientates a team and a manager struggles to get back into the groove, and this is made even harder by having to play away from home.
We know that Vieira sets his team up very tightly. They play disciplined footie that is usually not very exciting but effective nevertheless. Palace could finish as high as ninth this season and that would be a real achievement. We all remember what happened at the home fixture earlier this season, when we got a very late equaliser, a little against the run of play.
They are a tough nut to crack at any time, and the fanatic home crowd and disruption of the interlul will all make this a potential bruised banana skin for us. But it looks like everyone is available except for Ramsdale. Saka looks to have recovered from Covid, although Arteta has not stated that he will certainly play. The most pleasing aspect of our team now under Arteta is that we play with a certain pattern, structure and style of football that is very effective in controlling games. We are still a work in progress but we are now playing the sort of football that gets us results if, as always, lady luck is also on our side.
Ramsdale will be missed but Leno is good and keen to show us again what he is capable of. The back four is quite settled and and they all know their roles and responsibilities.
Xhaka and Partey are essential in Arteta’s system and every time they start together is a real bonus for us. I urge you to concentrate for a while on how this duo, who will probably play against Gallagher, Kouyate and Schlupp, controls the space and time in midfield. Yes they both will make a mistake or two in each game but they really control proceedings and without them we really are a much lesser team. It is not all fancy stuff but it is so effective. Key to it all is their spacial awareness (mainly Xhaka) and ability to break up attacks of the opponent early on (mainly Thomas).
The attack remains a work in progress, but with Odegaard in a free role between midfield and attack and Laca also operating in that vertical space we have two players who make things happen for us. The ones who are most likely to benefit from this space-making and excellent passing of the ball of the Norwegian and Frenchman are of course the wingers: (hopefully) Saka and Martinelli or Smith Rowe. I think the latter is the better finisher and in general much more effective player on or left wing, although Martinelli adds thrust and unpredictability that can help to crack the Eagles’ wall.
So I trust in our game plan and setup but here is the thing…. Vieira is an ex-Arsenal legend and he will have studied Arteta and Arsenal very well this season. Ex-players who turn into managers tend to really do that with their ex-teams. Hence, his goalless draw against City last month. So we have to be at our best tomorrow and take the game to Palace without being silly by giving them an opportunity to score from a counter or set-piece. At times they may take the game to us and put us under pressure too; Palace is a versatile team under Vieira and this really will be a tough game to win.
I expect this to be more of a chess game than a football game and patience and strategic adjustment (and a bit of luck) are likely to win if for either of our former midfield masters. Paddy must have one eye on the FA cup semi-final with the beatable Chavs and maybe he deep-down wants to help his former club too on this occasion. We really need the three points and have nothing else to play for. Let’s bring it on!
Soares – Big Ben – Big Gab – Tierney
Partey – Xhaka
Saka/Pepe – The Ode – ESR/Marti
Come on You Rip Roaring Gunners!!!!