Crystal Palace vs Arsenal – EPL Report
Following on from Arsenal’s narrow yet impressive victory over Leeds, the Gunners travelled to Selhurst Park to take on Crystal Palace. The meeting was Arteta’s fifth game in charge of Arsenal and he was looking for his third win in a row.
Arsenal and Palace’s Line-ups
Arsenal lined-up against Crystal Palace in Mikel Arteta’s preferred 4-2-3-1, with Aubameyang, Maitland-Niles, Torreira and Leno being the four changes from the side which faced Leeds. Roy Hodgson opted for a 4-1-4-1 system with Wilfred Zaha in his favoured left wing position. Hodgson has at times played Zaha as a joint striker with Ayew or as a right winger. In this game however, Hodgson decided to create a matchup of Zaha against Maitland-Niles down Arsenal’s right. Hodgson might also have hoped that should Palace get joy down their left wing, that Zaha could pull into the half-channel between Maitland-Niles and Sokratis. Riedewald could overlap and consume Maitland-Niles. This would leave Zaha in a great attacking position close to goal. He could use his excellent skill and acceleration to trick the defender into a foul or mistimed tackle.
Arsenal XG Dynamics – Possession, shots, XG
In the first half of the match, Arsenal had full control of the possession, however were struggling to create many chances. In the first half, Arsenal enjoyed 69% of possession creating 0.47 attacks per minute. This resulted in the team entering the break 1 goal to the good and with an expected goals of 0.49. This suggests that for all of Arsenal’s good work on the ball, they were not cutting through Palace. This is because Palace sat in a low block and defended in numbers. When they did choose to go forward, Martin Kelly at right-back slotted in and formed a back three with Cahill and Tomkins. This allowed Palace to defend the width and central areas of the pitch, should also win the ball and counter-attack. Pepe and Aubameyang almost helped form a front three alongside Lacazette, which could become deadly in the transition. Interestingly despite Aubameyang’s red card in the second half, Arsenal’s expected goals increased from 0.49 to 1.12. This could be largely down to Palace pushing more men forward in an attempt to force a winner and therefore leaving gaps for quick counterattacks from the Gunners. In total Arsenal had 6 shots with 2 on target and ended the game with an expected goals of 1.62.
Crystal Palace XG Dynamics – Possession, chances, XG,
In the first half Palace had an expected goals of 0.08. This reflected the difficulty they had in counterattacking against Arsenal and the fantastic tactical tweaks Arteta made. These tweaks prevented Zaha from having a big influence down Arsenal’s right. In the second half, Palace increased the possession from 31%to 54%and also had the luxury of having a man more than Arsenal. As you would expect, this led to an increase in the expected goals to 0.38. Palace ended the game with an expected goals of 0.10 which indicates the excellence in his finish. Palace ended the game with 0.47 expected goals which is a positive for Arsenal, because it indicates that they gave Hodgson’s men very few opportunities to score and create chances.
Arsenal sensation Lucas Torreira
Wilfred Zaha’s impending threat has already been highlighted, however Mikel Arteta’s tactical tweak to bring in Torriera was a masterstroke. The Uruguayan was tasked with protecting the half-channel between Maitland-Niles and Sokratis. The images below show that Torriera was charged with protecting the half-channel between Maitland-Niles and Sokratis. Zaha maintained a high birth, whilst Palace looked to overload their left wing position. James McCarthy looked to overload with Zaha and Riedewald, while Kouyate filed his vacated position. Torreira was forced off with an injury after just 47 minutes. Despite this, he made a remarkable impact. Only David Luiz (84) and Sokratis (67) made more passes than Lucas’s 53 and they both played the full 99 minutes of the match. Torreira also had the joint third highest pass completion out of the starting 11 with 87% shared with Xhaka. Sokratis (90%) and Ozil (88%) were the only players who had higher. As you would expect, it is in his defensive contribution where Torreira really shined. In his 47 minutes, Lucas made 3interceptions, 1 shot block, won 2 out of 4 loose ball duels and he also won 67% of his offensive duels. He won 100% of his 5 defensive duels and suffered 3fouls joint with Xhaka, however Xhaka also gave away 4 fouls, whereas Torreira gave away none.
Wilfred Zaha and Jordan Ayew
Lucas Torreira and the right hand side of Arsenals team, did such a good job of controlling Zaha, that he only 45% of his 74 total actions. The only player for Palace who started and got a lower percent was Jordan Ayew. He only completed 38% of his 85 total actions. Zaha had no shots in the game, whilst Ayew had one, which unfortunately for Arsenal was the most devastating of strikes. Ayew had an expected goals of 0.10 which showed his clinical nature in front of goal. Zaha was nullified to the point that he only managed to 2 of his 9 dribbles in the match. Zaha also lost the ball 15 times in the match and only had 2 touches in the Arsenal box. Ayew had completed 4 out 3 of his dribbles and had 5 touches in the Arsenal box.
With Arteta’s tactical tweaks, he knew that if Arsenal could win the ball down their right, they could quickly transition and counter-attack in behind Palace who would be caught up field. The switch was negated, due to Kelly playing a reserved third centre back role and denying Aubameyang to much freedom. A lot of space was afforded in midfield to Arsenal, because Palace were overloading down one wing. This allowed Arsenal the ability to attack centrally and this is where they got their goal from. Arsenal committed Palace’s midfielders with Lacazette dropping deeper to get on the ball as he dragged Tomkins with him. This opened a gap for Aubameyang to come of the left and exploit.
Hodgson wanted for his team to win the ball deep and distribute it out wide quickly. Vicente Guaita distributed the long 5 times with success with Jordan Ayew and James McCarthy being the two main recipients. When Guaita did pass short, he opted to pick out Gary Cahill who would split left when they played out form the back. He successfully found Cahill 4 times. This all points towards Palace’s ultimate game plan of overloading down their left and attacking Arsenal’s right.
Aubameyang’s red card and Mikel’s changes
Shortly after Aubameyang’s red card, Arteta replaced and unimpressive Ozil with Martinelli. Arteta redeployed the team in a 4-4-1, hoping that the team could both defend the width and interior. Martinelli went out to the right and Pepe moved across to the left. This was so that they could take Palace’s fullback, whilst Arsenal’s fullbacks could defend the inside against Palace’s winger. At this point Hodgson brought on Tosun and moved Ayew to the right wing.
In conclusion, Arteta read Hodgson’s game plan perfectly, he was only truly faltered by unfortunate circumstances. Arteta found a way to neutralised Palace’s impact in the game and denied them the ability to overload down the left. Palace’s expected goals of 0.08 in the first half shows this. Had Torreira stayed on the pitch in the second half, perhaps Arsenal could have been more effective and wouldn’t have conceded the equaliser. An impressive game from Torreira only marred by his injury. He showed signs of flexibility and smart quick thinking from Arteta and his staff as to where to deploy him. Something which Emery did not know. It is hard to argue that Aubameyang didn’t deserve his red card. Arsenal must take applause though, because away from home, they found the character and resolve to continue to play and at the very least protect the point.