Welcome back. As is the norm after a defeat like last Sunday’s against West Ham, it’s been a looooong week. We’ve had six days of introspection and castigation but at Selhurst Park tomorrow afternoon, we have an opportunity to put our false start behind us and secure our first Premier League points of the new season.
Of course, it won’t be easy. This is a stronger Palace than the one we did the league double over last year and we’re coming off the back of a wretched display. In terms of team selection, I’m tempted to suggest we should be unchanged personnel-wise, and look perhaps at finessing our formation by playing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from the left, Aaron Ramsey on the right and shifting Santi Cazorla back in alongside Francis Coquelin.
I think Palace’s pace down their right flank would be too much for Santi if for instance Wilfried Zaha or Yannick Bolasie are played and more importantly, we miss his passing in the middle when he’s deployed wide.
Speaking of flanks, although Alexis Sanchez has been declared fit and available by Arsene Wenger, judging by how off the pace our Chilean magician looked against the Hammers, I’d be surprised if he was in peak condition just seven days on. Barring that cameo, he’s had no match practice since his summer break after all.
Here’s what Arsene’s had to say yesterday on Sanchez’ fitness and what he expects from the former Barcelona man this season:
He came back reasonably fit. He practised for two weeks before he came back. He did not start from zero. In training now, he looks alright. I knew before the start that, once he was here, he would be difficult to stop. So I gave him a long enough break. He had four weeks off, which is quite reasonable. He finished on July 3 and he came back on August 3. He works extremely hard in every single training session to show that he is ready. I think what he does is, for me, normal. It is what everybody should do. You wonder if he has created a beach at home, and runs along the living room! He is a hyperactive guy. He needs that to be happy. He played 52 or 53 games last season, plus the Copa America. That means somewhere he has an instinct that shows how far he can go. It is difficult. In March, April, May, you could see he was a bit jaded. But he is still a guy who can make a decision in a game. And once he is out there he gives 100 per cent. This season, he knows what is expected from him, and he will do better than last year.
Alexis will no doubt be chomping a the bit to be involved from the start because that’s just the irrepressible nature of the man, but If there’s any doubt he’s not completely ready, I’d give him another place on the bench and expect not to have to introduce him out of desperation like last week.
Up front, with goals on consecutive visits to Palace and the physical nature of the hosts’ game, I can’t imagine Olivier Giroud won’t start. On a similar note, on our last visit, Calum Chambers was picked ahead of Hector Bellerin, presumablly for his added height more than anything else, so it will be interesting to see if Arsene adjusts his defensive lineup at all.
I mean, we have more than one position now where the first-choice is far from certain so we could, contrary to most of the above, actually see a number of changes. One or more of Gabriel, Bellerin, Mikel Arteta, and Theo Walcott could all conceivably start the match.
But whichever 11 are picked, they’ll need to be far more measured with their passing on what is a new, hopefully slick, pitch and far better organised all over the field than we were against West Ham.