Scotland V England Saturday 24th February. 4:45PM. BBC One Scotland v England renew their rivalry…
Watch Arsenal v Crystal Palace live on Sky Sports 1 at 5.30pm on Saturday.
Will Pulis be pulling Palace’s strings?
Although they have yet to kick a ball in a competitive match, the 2014-15 Premier League season has already started badly for Crystal Palace.
Indeed, manager Tony Pulis, who navigated the Eagles from the drop zone to mid-table respectability last term, is reportedly at loggerheads with club co-chairman, Steve Parish, and may not even be in charge when Palace face Arsenal in their opening match of the season on Saturday.
Apparently, Pulis is unimpressed with the club’s activity in the transfer market – or, rather, lack of it – and reports suggest that the Welshman, who was awarded the manager of the season accolade in the English top-flight last term, is set for make-or-break talks with Parish.
Such negativity is hardly ideal for the south London outfit ahead of their trip north of the capital to face an Arsenal side that will be brimming with confidence following a decisive 3-0 victory against defending league champions Manchester City in their Charity Shield tie last weekend.
Gunners gunning for the title
In contrast to the last couple of years, Arsene Wenger has acted swift and decisively in this summer’s transfer window. Indeed, there are three new additions to the squad, and the Frenchman once again flexed his newly-developed financial muscle by recruiting Alexis Sanchez for around £35m from Barcelona.
Arsenal haven’t been helped by drawn-out transfer sagas and new players having to integrate once the campaign is already under way in recent seasons. This time round things are different: the Gunners looked well-drilled and cohesive against City on Sunday and there is a genuine sense of belief in north London that a strong title challenge is on the cards.
It will be interesting to see how Wenger sets his side up for this curtain-raiser against Palace. It remains to be seen whether Sanchez, who was one of the stars during Chile’s World Cup campaign in Brazil, will be deployed as in a central or wide role, but either way he will be a thorn in the side of the visitors’ backline.
Arsenal’s trio of German players, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski and Per Mertersacker have been given extra time off following their World Cup heroics, so the home side’s midfield is likely to mirror that which lined up at Wembley last weekend, with Mikel Arteta playing just in behind Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Santi Carzola.
Due to Mertasacker’s absence and Bacaray Sagna’s departure, Wenger’s other new recruits, Callum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy, are set to feature in the starting XI, too. There’s no two ways about it, the Gunners now look very strong in every area of the park.
Sanchez’s arrival promises to bring out the best in Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman has divided opinion since switching to the Emirates, but he has often been deployed as a sole striker, a set-up which hasn’t suited him ideally. The Chilean’s pace and creativity will be the perfect for Giroud, who is more of a conventional striker.
Arsenal v Crystal Palace betting advice
In summary, it’s extremely difficult to envisage Crystal Palace getting anything from this game. And if Arsenal are in a similar mood to last weekend, it could be a case of damage limitation for the Eagles, with or without Pulis at the helm.
From a betting perspective, the most appealing option is to back Giroud to open the scoring at a tasty 5/1 with Betfair. He’s just 3/1 in the first goalscorer market with 888sport, which underlined the magnanimity of Betfair’s price.
Tip: Olivier Giroud in the first goalscorer market – 5/1 (Betfair)