Five things we learnt from Arsenal’s win over Crystal Palace. by Yusuf
When the Premier League fixtures were announced, there was much apprehension around Arsenal’s opening day fixture. Selhurst Park has not been a happy hunting ground for Arteta’s side in recent years with last season’s 3-0 defeat still on the minds of fans. Friday was an opportunity to banish those blues to a distant memory and show a new, more resilient Arsenal. Although the Gunners secured the three points, it did not come without its difficulties.
Here are five things we learnt from Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace.
William Saliba exceeds all expectations on his debut.
William Saliba’s introduction to life in N5 has been unconventional to say the least but as far as his time on the pitch, it could not have gone any more perfect. Not many 21-year-old centre backs can claim to have secured a clean sheet and man of the match on their debuts, especially playing their first game in a new country. Comfortable on the ball, and decisive in his defending the Frenchman was a reassuring presence at the back and showed a maturity well beyond his age. His stature is evident and clearly a defining quality, but Saliba’s reading of defensive situations and ability to get to ground and make tackles with such speed and conviction like he showed against Wilfried Zaha in the penalty box, are standout qualities that we’ll hope to see more of as the season continues.
Expecting this level of performance from Saliba every week may be unrealistic, but a performance like the one he showed at Palace did his reputation no harm.
Gabriel Jesus brings a different dynamic to Arsenal’s attack
Another player making his debut albeit a player who’s joined more recently is Gabriel Jesus. If William Saliba wasn’t your man of the match for any reason then it certainly went to Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian was electric under the lights at Selhurst Park and had everything in his performance, besides the goal he much deserved. Jesus was a constant threat on the ball and consistently looked to push the team forward with his pressing ability and driving run, nearly leading to the opening goal for Gabriel Martinelli. Jesus’ technique in linking play, combined with his athleticism and willingness to get into the opposition box shows a complete centre forward that Arsenal have been craving. He may not have gotten the goal he wanted on the opening night, but don’t be surprised to see Jesus on the scoresheet on his home debut this weekend.
Ben White’s mixed performance but manages to keep Zaha quiet.
It’s not often you spend £50 million on a centre back only to play them at right back but such is the level of depth at Arsenal right now. With Takehiro Tomiyasu still injured, Ben White is Arteta’s chosen right back to deputise. White had a mixed performance. Arsenal largely built up their attacks on the left hand side and White was less influential in build-up play than might have been expected. His comfortability on the ball and ability to play more inside the pitch is a strength for Arsenal however did also show its fragility and was an area that Patrick Vieira’s side did look to expose with constant long passes over White to Zaha. Of course, Arsenal won’t play against a defender with the distribution of Joachim Andersen every week, but it was a tactic Palace had much joy with and something that needs addressing. On Zaha, he was largely a peripheral figure and struggled to contribute much. That’s testament to White who handled him well throughout the match. While it’s evident that White is still a downgrade from Tomiyasu in that position, his ability is still levels ahead of Cedric and should continue deputising when the Japanese international is unavailable.
Oleksandr Zinchenko provides different qualities, but Tierney still proves his worth
Arsenal’s last debutant on the night was Oleksandr Zinchenko and like the others passed the test competently. Zinchenko was assured and calm on the ball throughout the night and his combinations with Gabriel Martinelli and Granit Xhaka on the left hand side was an area the Gunners looked to maximise when progressing the ball forward. Similar to Joao Cancelo for Manchester City, Zinchenko plays more infield than most full backs, helping control games and snuff out counter-attacks. While he performed largely well on the night, there are areas of concern around his defending, especially one on one. In the second half when Arsenal had less of the ball Kieran Tierney came on for Zinchenko and although the Scotsman isn’t as competent on the ball, really showed his value to the team in his defending. When Arsenal play games where they’re expected to dominate the ball, Zinchenko is suited, however in tough matches when Arsenal have to play more cautiously, having a defender as good at that in Tierney is incredibly valuable.
Arsenal still struggle controlling intensity
It’s often been said that losing to Manchester City is a “death by a thousand paper cuts” City do not overwhelm you in the same way as Liverpool, but simply take you apart slowly with their patient play and superior technical level making most games they feature in appearing like a training match. In the opening 30 minutes Arsenal showed a similar superiority and were completely comfortable against Palace. However, after some promising play from the home side and encouragement from the Selhurst crowd, Palace grew into the game and upped their intensity, something which Arsenal struggled to deal with, and would have been punished for without Aaron Ramsadale’s heroics. The second half was largely the same with Arsenal grinding out the result and having less of the ball for large spells while nicking a goal on the counter. The inability to control intensity and to continue dominating the ball throughout a whole game, even when game state changes, was a prevalent issue last season and an area the team needs to improve.
As this team is still young, with more experience and coaching it may well improve naturally, but Arsenal’s current “death by 500 paper cuts” still needs more refining to reach City’s level.
- Yusuf Malik (YMalik77)