Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Saturday August 16 2014
16th August, 2014
It's the mooooost, wonderful tiiiiiiiiime, of the yeeeeeear. Sod Christmas with its fake corporate sentiment and faux religious sentiment. This is the most wonderful day of the year. The Premier League is back (with all its fake corporate showiness).
Everything is possible on the first day of the season. This is the year you'll definitely win the league, your new striker will walk away with the Golden Boot and your rivals will all be humiliated.
Arsenal open their campaign against Crystal Palace who may not be engendered with that invincible pre season of optimism with manager Tony Pulis having left the club on Friday.
Assistant Keith Millen will take charge for the game as he did against Arsenal at Selhurst Park last October. Despite the upheaval, this will still be an obdurate Palace side that will have been prepared and drilled by Pulis prior to his departure.
Pulis worked a minor miracle in steering Palace from relegation certainties to midtable obscurity last season. But it seems his poor record in the transfer market at Stoke led to some hesitance in handing him the club purse.
Arsenal are enriched with a trophy on the sideboard and a couple of shiny new signings, not least in £30m forward Alexis Sanchez. I may curse these words come 7.30pm, but it really feels like Arsenal are back.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger has expressed shock at the departure of Palace manager Tony Pulis, 'It was a complete surprise to me and what kind of consequence that will have on Crystal Palace, I don`t know," said Wenger, who is the longest serving manager in the top flight.
"The only thing I can say is that he`s done a remarkable job last season and he made a miracle. I don`t really know why he left, but it took me by surprise. I have [never] seen that before, so you can always be surprised.
"I was at a managers` meeting on Monday with Tony Pulis and nothing indicated that he would not be here tomorrow afternoon."
Wenger added: "Maybe Tony Pulis was the manager of the season last year because he took the maximum out of his team during the period he was there - that is the real job of the manager."
Crystal Palace acting manager Keith Millen admits Tony Pulis will be a tough act to follow this evening, 'We`ve been frustrated we haven`t got the players in we wanted but we were all looking forward to the game yesterday.
'He`ll be a tough act to follow.'
Milen said his job now would be to focus the players on the trip to The Emirates, adding: 'I`m going to have to speak to the lads this morning and try to get their heads around it and remember what a good pre-season we`ve had.'
Asked whether he'd like the manager's job full-time, Millen said: 'It`s too early for me to answer that. We`ve got to get over the shock of what happened yesterday and concentrate on tomorrow`s game."
Arsenal will be without German World Cup trio Per Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Mesut Özil as they have only just returned to training. Laurent Koscielny is expected to be fit after a knock on the achilles in last Sunday's Community Shield win at Wembley.
Mathieu Debuchy, Claum Chambers and Alexis Sanchez are all in line to make their full debuts for Arsenal. David Ospina is out with a thigh complaint. Thomas Vermaelen has been sold to Barcelona. Abou Diaby is short of match fitness whilst Theo Walcott is around 6 weeks away from full fitness after a cruciate ligament injury.
Arsenal (from): Szczesny, Debuchy, Gibbs, Koscielny, Rosicky, Arteta (c), Wilshere, Giroud, Chamberlain, Ramsey, Alexis, Monreal, S.Cazorla, Flamini, Chambers, Sanogo, Bellerin.
The focus has been on Arsenal's new signings but their chance of a genuine title charge may rest on Aaron Ramsey continuing last season's sublime form. The Community Shield seemed to suggest that this is a permanent transition into a world class midfielder and not just a purple patch.
Ramsey will be a marked man now, his goal threat is no secret and he'll have to deal with a level of attention he didn't receive last year. But with the added attacking threat of Alexis, Arsenal look more diverse going forward than they have since the 2007-08 season in my estimation.
Adrian Mariappa is expected to shake off a rib injury to feature for the Eagles. New signings Martin Kelly, Brede Hangeland and Fraizer Campbell could all feature too.
Damien Delaney and Jonathan Williams are doubts for Palace.
Crystal Palace (from): Speroni, Ward, Mariappa, Hangeland, McCarthy, Dann, Bolasie, Guedioura, Campbell, O'Keefe, Hennessey, Thomas, Jedinka (c), Gayle, Murray, Bannan, Ledley, Chamakh, Kelly, Puncheon.
Pulis has his deep lying defence very well drilled, but a lot of their defensive solidity is down to the expert marshalling of Mile Jedinak in front of the Eagles defence.
Jedinak led the Premier League in tackles and interceptions which suggests that he has a big workload and he's adept at handling it. He will be key to the visitors' gameplan today.
Crystal Palace have only beaten Arsenal once in the Premier League, a 2-1 victory at Highbury in October 1994.
Jerome Thomas faces his old club.
Arsenal have won none of their last four Barclays Premier League opening weekend fixtures (D3 L1); including defeat to Aston Villa at home last season (1-3). They had won eight of the previous nine (D1).
Palace have won just one of their five opening weekend fixtures in the Premier League (D2 L2).
2013/14 was the first time that Crystal Palace managed to avoid relegation from a Premier League season.
Arsenal are searching for their 100th Premier League victory at Emirates Stadium today.
Olivier Giroud has scored six goals in his last six Premier League appearances at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsene Wenger's side have won their last five Premier League games in a row; they have not been on a longer run of consecutive victories since March 2012 (7).
Palace side have lost just one of their last eight Premier League matches (W5 D2 L1).
The referee will be Jon Moss of Culture Club fame.
I don't expect the team to look 100% physically ready given the truncated pre season, but I'm still backing them to win today. 2-0, goals for Giroud and Alexis.
Arsenal play away at Besiktas on Tuesday evening. Crystal Palace will play at home to West Ham United next Saturday.
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Date:Saturday August 16 2014
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