Crystal Palace vs Arsenal: Five (5) Important things we learned: Old habits die hard
Arsenal returned to Premier League duties on Saturday lunchtime with a trip to Crystal Palace. Here are five things we learned from the 1-1 draw.
Video Highlight Crystal Palace vs Arsenal | Premier League
Arsenal might consider themselves fortunate to leave Selhurst Park with a point after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s dismissal.
Aubameyang went from hero to zero for Arteta’s side. He scored his 14th Premier League goal of the campaign with a fine finish before receiving a deserved red card for what was an horrendous challenge.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the third Arsenal player to score and be sent off in the same Premier League match, and the first since Mikel Arteta vs Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in October 2013.
3 – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the third Arsenal player to score and be sent off in the same Premier League match, and the first since Mikel Arteta vs Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in October 2013. Repeat. #CRYARS pic.twitter.com/2Gbh7Z8JpY
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 11, 2020
In a bitty, scrappy, to-and-fro affair, Arsenal came away from their Saturday lunchtime trip to Selhurst Park with a hard-earned point.
Mikel Arteta’s team started dominantly, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang sweeping a lovely move into the bottom corner.
But as Palace started to press higher, the Gunners struggled to pass the ball as effectively.
Jordan Ayew nabbed a deflected equaliser and Aubameyang was sent off, leaving the sides sharing a fair point.
Crystal Palace vs Arsenal: Here are five things we learned from the 1-1 draw.
1. Old habits die hard
Mikel Arteta has spoken at length about changing the culture, the atmosphere and the belief in the dressing room. For all of the talk about the Pep Guardiola-inspired tactics and improved individual coaching, Arteta’s prime focus has centred on the attitude of the players, especially when they are defending.
While the high-pressing approach still paid dividends at times here, the vulnerabilities in defence were still present. Crystal Palace’s equaliser stemmed from a deep freekick where Arsenal were not organised to prevent the short pass and then far too slow to react in the penalty area, Granit Xhaka unable to close down the shot and David Luiz turning his back as he made a pitiful attempt to block Jordan Ayew’s effort.
The Arsenal defence is still creaky. The greater intensity of the frontline when pressing and structure of the central midfield has helped hide these deficiencies, but when the back four is asked to block out opponents for long periods, they begin to falter.
2. Full-backs impress again
If there were any individuals to come out of Saturday’s draw in a positive mood regarding their own performances, it should be the two full-backs, Sead Kolasinac on the left and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Both ‘reserves’ at the position impressed mightily and are pushing hard for a starting role.
Kolasinac was the more offensive of the pair, pushing into a left-wing position when Arsenal had safe possession of the ball. He was also the primary outlet, with Granit Xhaka and David Luiz both finding him on several occasions with spraying passes from deep.
Maitland-Niles was equally as influential. He stuck to his Wilfried Zaha task superbly, which is one of the most difficult one-on-one assignments in the Premier League, and was tidy and composed in possession as always. While Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney will be waiting in the wings to return from injury, if Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles perform like this, they might not be handed their starting roles as many assume.
3. The importance of line-breaking passes
Arsenal started superbly. They scored the opening goal with a sweeping move, pressed well to recover possession when they lost it, and moved it quickly when they did have it to break out of their own defensive third and control the game as a result.
But as the first half wore on, especially in the latter 20 minutes, Crystal Palace stopped sitting off their visitors, pushed up the pitch, and pressed with more intensity. During this period, Arsenal struggled to play through Roy Hodgson’s side, an increasing number of passes played between the centre-backs and goalkeeper as a result.
Put simply, fewer forward balls were played into Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil, inviting pressure in deep areas, and eventually succumbing to lumped clearances which usually result in a turnover. But when Arsenal did have control of the game, it was often due to David Luiz, Lucas Torreira or Granit Xhaka playing forward passes to progress the play.
Playing out from the back is the correct approach from Mikel Arteta. Successful teams must be able to do it to control games. But it must also feature the right type of passes, passes to break opposition lines. Without them, the facade of control only grows.
4. Lucas Torreira is important
The half-time withdrawal of Lucas Torreira had a noticeable impact on the Arsenal performance. While Matteo Guendouzi battled hard in the Uruguayan’s absence and certainly provides more drive in possession, the tidy passing and industrious tackling of the diminutive, snappy holding midfielder was missed.
Torreira suffered a blow to his back and head when jumping for a ball with teammate Nicolas Pepe just before half-time. The extent of the problem is not yet known, but the impact on the midfield is quite. The double-pivot of Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka has been exposed before and was again here.
Guendouzi lacks the positional discipline and wherewithal to anchor the midfield, while Xhaka’s immobility and one-footedness limits his true impact also. Torreira aids both of these issues. He sits deep, he shields the defence, he moves the ball quickly, and he has the speed to cover the ground. Arsenal missed him here, and will miss him if he is out for any period of time.
5. The Mikel Arteta definition grows
For the first time all season, Arsenal named an unchanged team in two successive Premier League games. That it took until mid-January to achieve that feat is troublesome, to say the least.
But under Mikel Arteta, there has been a much clearer and well-defined style that the team has taken to and is at least attempting to execute.
The 4-2-3-1 formation that morphs into a 4-4-1-1 out of possession and a 2-3-5 in possession, with a high-pressing approach on turnovers, quick interplay in deep areas to build up attacking moves, and the focus on getting Mesut Ozil into pockets of space in the right half-space, it is quite noticeable and evident what Arsenal are trying to do under Arteta.
Unai Emery’s greatest problem was his confusing instructions, largely because of his incessant tinkering, of personnel and system. Emery wanted his team to be adaptable, but he took it to an extent that they then did not know what to do. Clarity was painfully absent. But under Arteta, there is a plan, and it might just be a successful one.
After Crystal Palace vs Arsenal, What’s next?
Palace face a daunting trip to Manchester City next Saturday, while the Gunners host Chris Wilder’s impressive Sheffield United on the same day.