After an Arsenal-free weekend, we’re in action tonight as we take on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
This was last season’s opening game, it’s our first away game of the new campaign, and it’s always a challenge going there. We won 2-0 last time, but the second goal didn’t come until the 85th minute, and it had been difficult enough. I recall Aaron Ramsdale having to make some saves that night, and some long-range passing from the back that put us under some defensive stress.
What Mikel Arteta does with his team will be interesting. I would be extremely surprised to see a repeat of last week’s formation, with Thomas Partey nominally at right-back. For a game like this, away from home and in front of a passionate home crowd, solidity is important, and I think that means Gabriel should come back in to partner William Saliba. That is the best central defensive partnership we’ve got, and whatever the reasons for the Brazilian’s omission last week, I think he should start tonight.
Obviously that means Ben White goes back to the right, and then it’s about who plays on the left. Oleksandr Zinchenko is in full training, so must be pushing for inclusion, but the manager could also call on Takehiro Tomiyasu or Jakub Kiwior if he feels the Ukrainian isn’t quite ready to start yet. My suspicion is he will though, with one of the other two earmarked to slot in later in the game because 90 minutes + all the inevitable injury time might be a bit too much, too soon for Zinchenko.
A midfield trio of Partey, Declan Rice and Martin Odegaard feels solid for a game like this, and on the wings Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli must be lock-ins after a goal and an assist respectively last week. Then it’s about who starts up front. After training so well Arteta that couldn’t leave him out of the Forest game, does Eddie Nketiah keep his place after scoring the opening goal? Would Leandro Trossard be the right man for a game like this? There’s also Kai Havertz to consider given he started there in the Community Shield, and Arteta seems like a big fan of his off the ball work in particular. My guess, and that’s all it is, is that Nketiah keeps his place, and if it’s not working, the other two players can give you something from the bench.
As for Palace, they’ve lost Wilfried Zaha, a player who caused us some problems in the past, and their set up now looks a bit more narrow. They have moved Eberechi Eze into a more central role, so that solidity in central midfield and at centre-half will be tested by a player who had a very good game last week against Sheffield United.
Starting well could be really important here. That Palace crowd is a factor, and if we can get ourselves in front it might help quiet things down. It’s still so early in the season it’s hard to speak about form or anything like that, but let’s hope we can pull off a repeat of last season’s result. Regardless of how you come by them, three points at Selhurst Park are always very welcome.
In brief transfer news, there are stories linking Nuno Tavares with Aston Villa after he reportedly turned down a £13m move to Nottingham Forest. When we talk about selling players, one thing we don’t mention too much is the possibility of agreeing a fee with another club and the player in question deciding that’s not a place he wants to go. There’s really not a lot the selling club can do in that situation either. I’m sure Nuno is aware that in order to play this season, and in the seasons ahead, he needs to leave Arsenal – but at the same time if he’s not sold on a particular destination, he has every right to turn that down.
Similarly, there’s a report that Nicolas Pepe has turned down a proposal from Besiktas, which leaves him in this peculiar limbo he’s been in all summer. He’s not back at Arsenal, he’s training alone, and while it looks like the club will facilitate his departure, it doesn’t appear is there are a lot of options for him right now. There are just over 10 days left in the window, so hopefully he can get something sorted out soon.
Until then. Come on Arsenal.