Premier League 2019/20: Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal – Tactical Analysis
Crystal Palace being unbeaten in their last four matches, surprisingly are closer to Arsenal in the table than most would expect at this point in the season being in 9th and 10th respectively. Following the victory against Manchester United, the new man Mikel Arteta looked to keep the ball rolling with a trip to Selhurst Park and begin his climb up the table. It would have been the first time Arsenal had won consecutive Premier League matches since the 2018-19 season.
34 years separated the ages between Eagle’s manager Roy Hodgson and Arteta. The Spaniard was born in the same season that Hodgson took charge of his first-ever league campaign with Bristol City in the 1981-82 season. In this tactical analysis, we’ll see how the new compared to the old and how the dynamics of the game changed over time through the managers’ tactics and key events.
There were no changes from Arsenal’s last Premier League game. Mikel Arteta has kept his starting XI’s very consistent since arriving at the club. A 4-2-3-1 that includes all of Arsenal’s high profile attackers. Aubameyang is averaging a goal involvement every 88 minutes in London derbies with two goals coming against Palace.
Roy Hodgson was missing Luka Milivojevic who’s been a common name on the scoresheet against the gunners. Kouyate would come into midfield to replace him. They lined up in a 4-5-1 variant. Former Ajax youngster Jairo Rieldwald played his 5th consecutive game of the season.
The David Luiz Show
David Luiz came to Arsenal with a lot of questions surrounding his capabilities as a defender. These doubts intensified after high-profile mistakes against the likes of Liverpool. But an area you cannot underestimate Luiz in is his accomplished play on the ball. This match was significantly highlighted as Palace came out in the match allowing Arsenal to play out the back. A baffling choice of tactics given Arsenal’s struggles against playing through pressure. The Brazilian star had unlimited time and space to dictate the match with the ball at his feet. He ended the match with 73 completed passes the most in the match, with an 82% passing accuracy and 43 forward passes.
One of the forward passes would be crucial for Arsenal, as Luiz carried the ball into space and made a line-breaking pass to Mesut Ozil through Palace’s midfield line. The German playmaker then found Lacazette with a first-time pass who turned and made a slick pass to Aubameyang who was running into space and scored the opening goal.
This was easily Arsenal’s best move of the match, instigated and orchestrated by Luiz. Manager Mikel Arteta would have loved this goal as his tactical principle of overloading between the lines played a huge part. Arsenal’s attacking four and marauding wing-back made a 5v4 against Palace’s four-man backline which created the space and passing options for the goal.
Hodgson ends the show
Arsenal was running the game. Playing at a quick tempo and progressing the ball with ease, Selhurst Park was under siege. The gunners completed 164 passes in the first 22 minutes. However, Roy Hodgson had enough of this and the David Luiz show and decided to shut it down with a change in his tactics. It was as if a completely different team took the field as Palace started to competently and aggressively press Arsenal when they were playing through their defenders or building up from the back.
There were some significant turnovers created through this as it limited passing options and space. Passes into midfield would be closed down quickly and Luiz would not be allowed to dribble into space. This made bypassing Palace’s midfield line much harder. As you can see below, what originally started as a 4-5-1 turned into a 4-4-2 like shape. With midfielder Kouyate often stepping up and assisting Ayew in pressing the center backs.
Many turnovers were created by pressing the right side of Arsenal’s team. It’d be very easy to appoint to Maitland-Mailes’ 65% passing accuracy and other individual mistakes but I believe it’s deeper than the individual. The general structure of the play on the side is completely different than on the left. On the opposite side Kolasinac would bomb down the flank and Xhaka takes up space left behind which in turn pins players back and creates space to play through. It’s been a very recognizable sequence of play under Arteta.
But on the right side, Maitland-Miles doesn’t move high and wide meaning Ozil and Pepe are tasked with being outlets by making timely runs into space which doesn’t consistently prove effective results and invites more and more pressure that personnel such as Maitland-Miles, Sokratis, and Torreira couldn’t deal with. Torreira made 22 backward passes and a lot of the time due to the angles and options available to him.
In the sequence below, Ozil mistimes his movements but Sokratis makes the pass to him anyway and the ball is turned over inside Arsenal’s half.
Red card changes dynamics
Following these changes, Arsenal struggled to maintain long periods of sustained possession. Guendouzi came on for Torreira at half-time and started to offer different passing angles and movements that created space. But as they started to settle on the ball again, a quick pass from a set-piece caught the gunners sleeping and Palace scored a deflected shot.
Things would continue to go south as leading club scorer Aubameyang would be sent off. But through tactical analysis, we can see Arteta didn’t panic and stuck to his ideologies of wanting to attack. When in possession maintaining a similar structure of 2-3-4 and a 4-4-1 without. The Eagles struggled with playing in their own half throughout the match and Arteta maintained a high press, flooding the ball near side when the ball was passed to a fullback in an attempt to create turnovers in Palace’s half.
The statistics showed Palace completed 92 passes compared to Arsenal’s 57 following the red card showing the struggles that developed from going down to 10 men. Passing patterns during buildup were hard to connect as Hodgson’s men would similarly flood the ball near side and often leave Arsenal in numerical disadvantages. Matteo Guendouzi’s ball progression capabilities would be on full display and assist massively. There were multiple sequences, one below, where there were no passing angles available and he carried the ball into Palace’s middle third.
Against United and Leeds Arsenal maintained clean sheets, improvement in defensive shape has been an apparent change since the dismissal of Emery. This was crucial here as despite facing adversity they didn’t collapse. Space between the midfield and defensive lines was compact and Palace didn’t commit enough players to truly cause problems. The home side created 0 big chances despite being up an extra man.
Arsenal in the first half showed the glimpses of what we all want, included manager Mikel Arteta who said “the first 30 minutes is how we want to play”, following the game. The red card ultimately changed the game and set it on the course that it did and as we saw in this tactical analysis Palace was not good enough to carve out the chance required to secure all three points.