14 August 2014

Time to inflict a dirty Sanchez on a Pulis-less Palace...

I'm sorry, Crystal Palace. I genuinely am. I love that you not only earned promotion to the Prem last season, I love even more that you fought your way to 11th place. Normally, Gooners are supposed to heap scorn on Tony Pulis, what with his Neanderthalian tactics and all. However, I can't help but hang my head just a little now that he's gone. He seized your squad by the scruff and dragged it onward and upward, and I don't know if his replacement will be able to inject the same intensity or aggro that he brought. What's worse, we're set to unleash a weapon against whom you may not have had much of a defense even with Pulis calling the shots. This new weapon, he's cheeky. He's pacey. He's used to working in tight, clenched-up spaces. Of whom do I speak? Alexis, of course. I have a feeling that he's going to deliver a bit of dirty business.

Now, I know what you're thinking, and a part of me thinks it too: your lads will be galvanized by Pulis's abrupt departure. The adrenaline-rush will fuel an inferno of emotions as you take to the pitch, angered and defiant, full of Pulis's piss and vinegar (not literally, I assume) as you look to take the starch out of our shirts.

Look, mate, I would love to see the Eagles stay up. Heck, I'd love to see the lot of ye finish above Stoke and Newcastle and a fair-few others along the way. However, I worry that Saturday just won't be your day. We learned our lesson 'round about a year ago: start strong. As such, I just don't see your squad screwing its courage to the sticking-place, not against the arsenal we're set to unleash.

Ordinarily, one might expect a squad in as much disarray as Crystal Palace, manager-less as I write, to defend deep and in numbers, hoping to spring a counter-attack. Against Arsenal, this might just work more often than I'd care to admit. However, this time through, we've got a player who can do more than run in behind defenders; Alexis, if you haven't yet done your oppo, is more than happy to slice and dice with the ball at his feet against two or even three defenders. He dances. He dekes. In the tightest of spaces, Alexis has delivered. Playing for Barcelona, he's encountered more than his fair share of "catenaccio", squads that sit back and squat eight or nine players in and around the box, daring attackers to do their worst—and he's done it.

I know full-well that defending in the La Liga is worlds away from defending in the Prem, all the more so when a side managed by Pulis is involved. Suffice it to say, we Gooners should prepare ourselves for a bit of pugnacity, a few punches and pulls. Fair play. If you can't join 'em, beat 'em, as the saying goes (?). All the same, Alexis looks primed to punish. He flirted with a few moments of brilliance against Man City, and I'm sure he's eager to make good on the promise we see in him at this end.

While I'm sure that you Eagles will hunker down and hope to nick a point on Saturday, I gotta think that Alexis, fed by Cazorla and Ramsey (and others), will find a way through the thicket to bag a brace. Sit back and defend as deep as you like; I don't see you denying Alexis in his Prem debut. Whether he's running in behind your defense on his own, going in one-on-one against the keeper, or twinkle-toeing through that defense despite its doggedness, he'll find a way through. Slicing in from our right flank, he'll befuddle and bewitch. For your sakes, I just hope he doesn't bewilder...