Fortunate Palace frustrate 10-man Arsenal
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw
Arsenal were left frustrated with a point at Selhurst Park, with the underlying metrics suggesting Palace were once again fortunate to pick up a result, in a game in which Arsenal appeared to have merited all 3 points. Our superior xG of 1.41 to their meagre 0.39 reflects relatively accurately on the course of the game; we dominated the ball and limited them to very little in front of goal, whilst not being overly creative ourselves but almost certainly creating enough to attain the 3 points.
Arteta named an unchanged side from the United game, the first time that has happened in the league for us in over a year. A sign of continuity, a sign that Arteta has settled on certain players and has been pleased with what he saw from them in recent matches.
The faith he showed in this eleven was more than repaid in a dominant opening 35 minutes, where we controlled possession (73% by minute 37), pinned Palace in their own half and won the ball back relentlessly after losing it. The extent of control we exerted was evident in limiting Palace to one shot and a mere 0.1 xG in the entirety of the first period. Whilst we weren’t getting the ball into dangerous areas enough, and failed to break through their rigid structure on a regular basis, our ability to hold onto the ball was very impressive, with Torreira, Xhaka, Luiz and Sokratis in particular seeing a lot of it and distributing it well from deep areas. The way we did cut through Palace for our goal was more impressive, with Luiz, Ozil and Lacazette involved in sharp, quick interplay, before the Frenchman fed Aubameyang who finished with typical proficiency.
The blow of losing Torreira to injury at half-time certainly played a major role in our loss of control in the second half. The little Uruguayan was the catalyst for our intense pressing system in the first period, which saw us prevent Palace attacks as soon as we lost the ball by pouncing on their player in possession in numbers. In the second period, the Eagles found it much easier to break through our lines and feed their talisman Wilfried Zaha, who found himself in more advanced areas rather than dropping deep to collect the ball to try and influence the game, which is certainly not where he thrives. Despite seeing more of the ball, Maitland-Niles kept him very quiet, dealing with the Ivorian international very comfortably throughout. Their absence of players with the technical capacity to play incisive passes in the final third meant we still limited them to a mere 0.29 xG in the second 45, with the only opportunities they did get coming from more direct play from set-pieces and hopeful crosses.
Their goal itself came following a set piece, with the ball being recycled and delivered hopefully, before eventually finding its way to Jordan Ayew, whose deflected strike looped in over Leno. Very fortunate. Palace sit second from bottom in terms of xGF, with their luck sure to run out at some point. Their 9th place standing certainly doesn’t reflect the team’s performance levels, and you’d expect them to drop in the league as the season continues unless they can address their lack of creativity from open play.
Enough of Palace, this is an Arsenal blog. Our response to Aubameyang’s (perhaps harsh) red card was encouraging, with the team dropping into a compact shape, making it difficult for Palace to break through whilst posing a threat on the counter with Pepe, Lacazette and the exciting cameo from Martinelli. In actual fact, we looked significantly the more threatening side after the sending off, and probably should’ve won it when Pepe struck the post and Lacazette failed to convert from the follow up.
Ultimately, having watched the first half an hour, it’s difficult to fathom not winning that game. However, it is essentially another encouraging performance with more points dropped. Not quite good enough for us at the moment, despite this season being a write off to an extent. We move onto Sheffield United next week. In Mikel we trust.