Tactical Points from Arsenal's frustrating draw with Palace
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
Due to the drastic time difference between the UK and India, our tactical analyst Vinay was unable to watch the game- and lucky him. So, in his absence, I'll attempt to dissect this nothing game:
- The overall xG scoreline reflected the sorrow state of affairs. Arsenal roughly mustered up 0.6 xG to Palace's 0.8. The notion that we were 'lucky' to come away with a point because Palace came close a few times is nonsense- we're not lucky we recruited an excellent goalkeeper and that Palace's finishing wasn't sublime. A goalless stalemate was very much the correct result.
- Arteta tried to keep the nucleus of the side that has thrived in recent weeks, and rightly so. However, the likes of Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka looked exhausted at times, and their inability to fully influence proceedings (and the absence of Kieran Tierney) essentially made our attack lacklustre.
- It was all about being able to break down Palace's stubborn low block, whilst they tried to hit us on the counter, but neither of these things really came to fruition. The speed in our passing was far too stagnant, the lack of forward movement infuriating and our inability to progress the ball effectively absolutely antagonising.
- Zaha and Benteke's presence up front made it difficult for Rob Holding and David Luiz to find forward passes. They placed themselves strategically, blocking passing lanes centrally, and consequently our two centre-backs were forced to use the wide options through our full-backs on a perpetual basis, which was never an efficient way of ball progression.
- Palace packed the central areas of the pitch with Luka Milivojevic and James McArthur sitting deep. Smith-Rowe was unable to find space between the lines because of this, so was forced to continually take up spaces out wide. This left Arsenal with the old 'central space behind the striker vacuum' that we've experienced all season until recent games. Without someone occupying these central areas, it becomes very difficult to break them down.
- Without Tierney, the balance on the left-hand side was very off. Ainsley Maitland-Niles' best attributes are his defensive abilities and his athleticism. Going forward has never been his strongest area, but this was exacerbated when deployed on the left, where there was an onus on him to go on the outside and drive forward and deliver crosses/cut-backs. Both him and Aubameyang wanted to come inside all the time, and this left us with very little variation in our attack on this side. When AMN was used as a left-wing back previously, he had the overlapping Tierney from LCB, which negated these issues. As a result of this, Arsenal lost their main form of chance creation.
- Swapping Saka to left-back was the right change from Arteta, but unfortunately the starboy looked shattered throughout and failed to make an impact there. This speaks to a wider issue of players in the league looking absolutely exhausted over the last 4/5 weeks, which was probably inevitable given the unconventional schedule over the last 9/10 months.
- Xhaka produced perhaps one of his best defensive performances in an Arsenal shirt. The Swiss international made a monumental 6 tackles. He protected the back four, preventing several potentially dangerous Palace counters and was probably our best player on the night. He was helped by another good display from Holding behind him and an exuberant Dani Ceballos alongside him.
- Overall, a very frustrating night. Two mid-table teams that were probably likely to produce this sort of game if we're honest. We were always going to slip up in this hectic schedule and unfortunately it was last night. Let's hope we rectify this on Monday.