Crystal Palace – Arsenal: Patrick’s Project Pounds The Process In Ruthless Twist Of Fate (3-0)

Eager to rebuff Spurs’ quest for fourth place, Arsenal needed a win. But if Patrick Vieira ought to have been in a giving mood to bestow his old club a favor, he had not read the script. Potency in transition, pressing, and possession stunted the guests, whose season will go down to the wire.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.

Cobham and Hale End have drawn the most plaudits from the media this season for their youthful exports, but the project to the south-east of London befits acclaim too. Crystal Palace have taken the task of renewing their roster with aplomb. If Roy Hodgson was a beacon of stability, Patrick Vieira has rewarded a choice many touted as a risk. All eyes will be on their trip to Wembley in the FA Cup, but prospects of a top half finish for the first time since their return to the top flight are still strong.

Once a loyal lieutenant of Arsène Wenger, Vieira’s faith in youth echoes the doctrine of his former manager. Yet, his opposite man in the away dugout had traditions of his own to restore. Where rivals have kept flagging in the new year, Arsenal have seized a window of opportunity to lay a strong claim to fourth place. Now three quarters of the way through their campaign, their form in 2022 beckons the holy grail of Champions League qualification: a staple aspect of Mikel Arteta’s playing days in North London. His troops must hold their resolve at the tail end of the season to fulfill their coming of age.

Vieira went for a 4-2-3-1 system. After a 0-0 draw with Manchester City last time out in the league, his concerns centered on injuries in the front line. Wilfried Zaha and Michael Olise picked up blows on national duty, rendering both a doubt ahead of kickoff. In the end, Zaha alone was fit to make the starting eleven, so Jordan Ayew filled in as the right winger to the outside of Jean-Philippe Mateta.

Set on the basic framework from which he operates, Arteta rotated several men in the lineup. Bernd Leno made way for Aaron Ramsdale, who was back to health from a hip injury. On the other hand, a knee injury kept out left back Kieran Tierney, handing Nuno Tavares a first start in the league in the new year. Emile Smith Rowe also continued playing from the left in place of Gabriel Martinelli.

Eagles earn the right to play

Though Arsenal should have forced home the issue, Palace began the contest brightest. Their 4-2-3-1 pressing shape aimed to prevent the visitors from settling into a rhythm. A central figure in this ploy was Conor Gallagher. A tireless presence in the middle of the park, the Chelsea loanee was typically the man to trigger the press, shadowing Thomas Partey before stepping out to engage the back four.

12th minute: pressing sequence from Palace. Ayew closes down Tavares, guiding the play to Xhaka. Nathaniel Clyne shifts out to the midfielder, whose pass to Lacazette invites pressure from Gallagher.

Crucially, the hosts worked smartly as well as diligently. From the diamond setup in the middle of the park to wide rotations and patient buildup, Arsenal seek to engineer the play in a way that lets them suddenly quicken the tempo. Therefore, Vieira’s men aptly cut off key referential points. Marc Guéhi moved out from the back to rattle Alexandre Lacazette, while Jeffrey Schlupp shielded the halfspace to stop Martin Ødegaard from picking up the ball between the lines. The guests could not get going.

Palace progress down their left

While Arsenal have taken steps forward under Arteta, old frailties can still prove their undoing. In this match, an asymmetric 4-2-3-1 pressing structure was on show. Ødegaard marked Cheikhou Kouyaté, Lacazette shuffled to his left to cover Joachim Andersen, and the back four shifted right behind Saka.

So, on their part, Arteta’s men coaxed the home team to build up the play down their left edge. Palace took the invite, thanks in no small part to their strengths. In the absence of Olise on the right flank, Zaha was their best ball carrying outlet in the attack. Mateta often evaded from his central starting point to the left, leaving the ball far duo of Gallagher and Ayew to make their mark high up the pitch.

The weak spot for Arsenal in their scheme has often been their right halfspace, where elite teams have craftily created overloads to break the lines. Here, it only took 15 minutes to exploit this fragile zone.

Palace problematize Arteta’s planning

A quarter of an hour into the match, Palace’s endeavor drew a foul from Ben White to earn a set-piece. Gallagher whipped a delivery from the free kick towards the back post, where Joachim Andersen won an aerial duel against Tavares, nodding the ball across the six yard box. The final piece of need was a blue and red shirt to direct the play into the net. Mateta was the man to connect, opening the scoring.

Andersen drove a long ball into the path of Ayew. Arsenal’s back four sought to raise the offside line once the play went laterally towards the central defender, but the rearguard fell apart. The flight of the pass took a sliding Gabriel Magalhães out of the game, while Tavares also lost track of his opposite man. Ayew breached the chasm in front of Ramsdale, slotting his strike into the net to double the lead.

Down by two goals, Arsenal’s prospects of breaking away from Spurs back to reclaim fourth place on the night were quickly slipping away. Hence, in a desperate bid to turn the tide of the contest, Arteta made a substitution at half time. Tavares did not return to the field, so Xhaka deputized at left back. Martinelli entered the field of play on the left flank, and Smith Rowe now featured as an interior. Sitting off more willingly, Palace stayed firm till the 65th minute, forcing Arteta’s hand once again.

All risk, no reward

The Arsenal manager now swapped Cédric Soares with Eddie Nketiah. An asymmetric back three with Xhaka took form, tilting over to the left due to the narrow role of White. Martinelli moved to the right flank without a fullback to be the width holder. Saka switched to the left, and Nketiah provided a dual threat with Lacazette. On the contrary, Vieira hoped to lock down the three points. He brought on James McArthur, placed Schlupp onto the left flank, and pushed Zaha into the role of the lone striker.

The match’s next goal, in the 74th minute, would be decisive. Unfortunately for the guests, it did not go in their favor. Partey’s attempt at plucking the ball out of the air turned over the play, giving Zaha another opportunity to wreak havoc. Driving forward from the center circle, he left Magalhães trailing in his wake and set his sights on the goal. Ødegaard raced back into the penalty area to help defend, but Zaha’s ball mastery drew contact to the back of his right leg. Stepping up to take the following penalty, he buried a shot from twelve yards to round off an assertive showing and kill off the contest.

67th minute: offensive sequence from Arsenal. Xhaka, fulfilling the role of ball progressor much more predominantly in this phase of the game, breaks the lines to find Smith Rowe. The attacking midfielder plays a first time layoff pass into the path of Nketiah, whose cutback then finds a misfiring Ødegaard.

Nketiah came closest to breaking the deadlock on behalf of Arsenal, but the visitors could not beat Vicente Guaita. To make matters worse, Partey, whose performance was out of line with his strong vein of form, limped off the pitch with an injury. Full time could not have arrived sooner for Arteta.


This outcome is yet another feather to count on Vieira’s cap. Indeed, the display spoke to how the new manager has added to Palace’s toolkit. Still able to sit off in a low block and carry a dynamic threat on the break, a more proactive tactical turn on both sides of the ball has afforded the precocious talent in this team the chance to shine. Indeed, to achieve this feat in the absence of rising star Olise reflects the quality of a squad now sitting in ninth place in the Premier League table. Selhurst Park is bouncing.

Defeat, a dull display, and untimely layoffs for a thin roster are a rude awakening for Arsenal. Their lackluster performance in the first half set the tone for a night whose result has complicated the task of getting into the Champions League. The upcoming visit of Brighton offers the chance to wrestle their way back into that elusive qualifying spot, but Arsenal must fight to the death to take fourth place.

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"Possession as a philosophy is overrated. Possession of the ball as a tool is underestimated." João Cancelo stan (19) [ View all posts ]


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