Oh dear, for the impartial observer that had perhaps seen Arsenal’s sumptuous victory over West Brom, the Arsenal vs Palace game was a confusing affair. They could be forgiven for thinking that the Gunners had fielded their ‘B-team’ by mistake, such was the dip in energy and intensity.
Arsenal’s go-to left-back and emerging star Kieran Tierney was absent with a muscle problem and it was extremely noticeable that very little was happening down the left-hand side. There wasn’t much more happening on the right but at least, Saka and Smith Rowe connected up on occasion.
Palace snuffed out opportunities and put out any potential fires by keeping tabs on the North London side’s danger men and by shutting down space. After about 20 minutes of courteous play, Palace started to grow into the game by dominating in key areas and in particular the midfield.
The end of the first 45 meant that at least Arteta could shuffle the pack and bring on Thomas Partey at some point, but it was a bench devoid of game-changers. Maitland-Niles looked extremely loose, he was inevitably lacking minutes and his touch was completely off. As a replacement on the left, it might be an idea to have a left-footed player, but it appears that Arteta may have to look at his academy to fill that particular void after Kolasinac took flight in the transfer window.
On a positive note, Xhaka looked up for the Arsenal vs Palace contest, he paid particular attention to Zaha and made at least two key interceptions. I’m still not a paid-up member of the fan club, but on a night where things were sluggish and the threats on goal were at the wrong end, his efforts were appreciated.
So, Palace went through the gears like we knew they could, and in the 38th minute, a lovely cross from Eze met the head of Tomkins which struck the bar. Then Benteke called Leno into action in the 41st minute with a firm header and the Gunners couldn’t wait to hear the half time whistle, having been on the receiving end for most of the game.
Let’s just give the keeper his dues, although he wasn’t constantly under fire, he was alert and ready for whatever came his way. This is the second full match where at least one German proved exceptional value for their wages. Arteta must have turned the heat up at his half time confab because Arsenal looked more purposeful and energised as a result, but without Tierney on the left, it all felt a bit football by numbers.
The passes looked sharper and slicker and the movement was better but after the big build-up I gave Saka and Smith Rowe, both were strangely subdued and if Arteta thought he could avoid spending on his midfield this window, the Arsenal vs Palace game made him think again.
Smith Rowe made runs, assisted in the buildups, and got a shot off but he was no match for a Palace side that had come for at least a point, possibly more. Palace gave neither youngster the chance to show what they were capable of by ruthlessly closing down and covering the back with two lines of defence. Surely no one was surprised by that.
Arsenal began asking questions with Bellerin and Lacazette trying their luck, both efforts ending up in the side netting and you felt that substitutions were looming if the score remained the same. The first substitution wasn’t the one we all expected when Pepe replaced the ineffective Maitland-Niles, still no Partey in all senses of the word but as Palace started to flex their muscles, he finally came in for Ceballos but would the pattern change as a result?
The answer was no, the midfielder was strong and looked decent, but his range of passes wasn’t going to make Palace hit the panic button. Arsenal’s main problem was a familiar one, they were unable to find their in-form French striker Alexandre Lacazette and all the expectations from the recent successes were starting to fade under the intense pressure from an interested and determined Palace.
With around six minutes of normal time left, Zaha collided with Holding in the Arsenal area and he went to the ground, not for the first time this evening, but the referee ignored the winger’s looks of incredulity. That’s Zaha’s problem he’s looking for the free-kick or penalty and the refs are reluctant to give either, but on this occasion, Rob Holding should be thankful because his arm looked to have powered the Palace man to the ground. Palace will enjoy the draw more than Arsenal but it was generally a fair result and could have been far worse if the Eagles had been more clinical.
I’m not sure I understand Hodgson’s infatuation with Benteke, he’s a lump of a player, and other than his sheer physical presence, he appears to have limited value. What does the performance in the Arsenal vs Palace game mean about the transfer window for the Gunners?
It means Arteta has realised that he still needs another quality goalkeeper, midfielder, and left-back. Signatures need to be sought before the deadline arrives.