Arsenal Must Not Allow Tony Pulis Departure to Become a Distraction

James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2014

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - AUGUST 26: Tony Pulis (R) the Stoke City manager looks on with Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Arsenal at the Britannia Stadium on August 26, 2012 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
David Rogers/Getty Images

Arsenal kick off their Premier League campaign with a home fixture against Crystal Palace.

Going into the match, the headlines will be dominated by stories about the shock departure of Palace boss Tony Pulis. However, Arsenal cannot afforded to get distracted. Their focus must be solely on securing a positive start to the league campaign.

Speaking to the official Arsenal website, Arsene Wenger admitted that the managerial change at Selhurst Park had caught him entirely off-guard:

It was a complete surprise to me and what kind of consequence that will have on Crystal Palace, I don't know.

The only thing we can do is prepare ourselves to face a tough opponent and I think the importance of the game, plus the fact that it's the first game of the season, means Crystal Palace will be focused and motivated.

The importance of a good beginning cannot be underestimated. Last season, Arsenal lost 3-1 at home to Aston Villa on the opening day.

The final whistle sparked a mutiny at the Emirates Stadium, as supporters turned on the manager and board. Arsene Wenger and chief executive Ivan Gazidis were roundly criticised for their failure to bring in new signings.

Although Arsenal recovered with a 10-match unbeaten run and the acquisition of Mesut Ozil, the Villa result did serious damage to the relationship between club and supporters.

Win on the opening day, and the atmosphere will be entirely different. After a busy summer and with the FA Cup securely in the trophy cabinet, there is already an optimistic mood around the club. That was boosted by the convincing Community Shield victory over Manchester City

The mood in the camp is excellent, and nothing must be allowed to dilute the Gunners’ focus.

Even though Pulis has gone, he leaves behind a side who are superbly organised. The Eagles will be keen to demonstrate that their success last season was not entirely down to the Welshman.

There are some personnel, such as Marouane Chamakh, who have a particular point to prove at the Emirates Stadium.

This will not be a walkover. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 10: Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal is challenged by Fernando (L) and Jesus Navas of Manchester City during the FA Community Shield match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on August 10, 2014 in London, England.  (Phot
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

As impressive as the win over City was, that was still more of a friendly than a competitive match. This is different.

This is the competitive cut-and-thrust of the Premier League. No preseason game can match the intensity and drama of the Premier League.

Three points are on the line, and as the tight finish at the top of the table last season shows, every point is precious. 

If Arsenal drop points on the opening day, and then go on to finish just short of their target this season, they will surely look back on this as a fixture in which they should have triumphed. With Palace destabilised by the loss of Pulis, Arsenal should be able to plunder and pillage. If their concentration is right, this match is there for the taking.

Arsenal must not allow anything to distract from their singular goal: three points. The time for talk is over. The Premier League is back.


James McNicholas is Bleacher Report’s lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2014/15 season. Follow him on Twitter here.