Friday, June 2, 2023

Palace preview: Turn pre-season excitement into Premier League points

The official end of summer for me is the start of the new Premier League season, and here we go again.

Tonight we take on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park after a pre-season which has provided a lot of excitement and optimism. In the end though, those games don’t count, tonight does, and we know this is an opponent and a venue which has been challenging for us – not least last season when we were out-played and lost 3-0.

Still, there are reasons to believe tonight can be different. Mikel Arteta spoke about learning lessons from that day; the squad is stronger and better; and we’ve added quality players to the mix this summer who will have a positive impact on how we play. It doesn’t mean Palace won’t be up for it, of course they will, and in front of their own fans on a Friday night we’re set for a white-hot start to the new campaign.

But none of that should be any kind of surprise, and nothing about the Premier League is ever easy. Our preparation should have taken all that into account, and the last thing we can do is turn up and say, ‘Well, we weren’t expecting that’.

In terms of team news, the manager was somewhat guarded about who might be available. He said three of the four players we had doubts over were set to train yesterday and assuming they had no setbacks, they’d be involved (you assume in the squad, not yet starting). He wouldn’t say which three of Kieran Tierney, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Fabio Vieira and Emile Smith Rowe that was though.

I saw Tomi in the training pics, and it was reported earlier in the week that Smith Rowe had a groin strain which would see him miss the game, so chances are it’s him. Arteta also spoke about how greater depth can ensure that when players come back from injury they’re fully ready. Referencing Tierney and Tomiyasu, he said:

The reason they got those persistent injuries are for different reasons, probably because the squad didn’t enable them to recover, and [we] don’t play them when it was necessary and it was too tired when they weren’t fully recovered so sometimes we had to rush them.

These guys are basically going to have to get their pre-season from the bench in the coming weeks, but as I said, the squad is deeper. Tonight’s team is more than likely going to be the same one that started against Sevilla, meaning William Saliba should continue at centre-half with Ben White at right back. Last season our full backs for this fixture were Cedric and Nuno Tavares.

If that provides us greater defensive solidity, it’s further forward where the real excitement is. I don’t know what more I can say about what Gabriel Jesus has brought to this team in pre-season, so now it’s time to deliver in the Premier League. Last season the Palace defenders got out their deck-chairs and had a nice read of the paper, so untroubled were they by Alexandre Lacazette. I don’t think they’re going to have such an easy time tonight with the movement and energy of Jesus.

Around him, Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard will be so important, and right now that front four looks like they’re all very much on the same wavelength. We’ve seen them destroy Sevilla and cause Chelsea all kinds of problems, so fingers crossed they can produce tonight.

There’s a sense of hope and optimism around the team right now. Some of it obviously stems from what we’ve done during the summer, but really the platform for it was last season. As disappointing as it was to finish it that way, you could still see the progress, and if we can finish 5th with so many pieces missing, why shouldn’t your glass be half full after the signings we’ve made to fill some of those gaps?

It would be nice to really get the ball rolling quickly with a win tonight, generating early-season momentum could be really important – especially when we know there’s a great big gap in the season after which nobody will quite know what to expect because we’ve never experienced it before.

I think this is a team capable of doing far better at Selhurst Park than we did just a few months ago, and I’m ready to go again. We look solid at the back and potent up front, it’s a nice feeling to go into a difficult game, and I’m so excited to see what we can produce now that the games are meaningful.

All aboard.

To help you through the day as you wait for kick off later, here’s some stuff for your eyes and ears.

🎤 Podcast: A Premier League preview chat with Ken Early of Second Captains, focusing mainly on some of the other teams around us. Listen here.

🎤 Podcast: An Arsenal preview, with Andrew Allen, Amy Lawrence, Art de Roche, Clive Palmer, and Dara O Briain. Listen here.

🎤 Podcast: Our regular Premier League preview podcast, focused on the Palace game, with Lewis Amborse and Dan from HLTCO. Listen here (Patreon only).

📰 Long-read: The big Arseblog Season Preview post in which myself, Tim Stillman and Andrew Allen assess the state of the squad going into the first game. Read here.

Plenty there to get you through the day. And don’t forget, football is back and that means all the match-day coverage on the site. We’ll have the live blog for you later on, and all the match report, player ratings, stats, reaction and more over on Arseblog News.

Have a great day, and I’ll catch you later for the game.

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