The return of the prodigal son Patrick Vieira may well have been what dominated the headlines in the build-up to the match, but Arsenal knew heading into their match against Crystal Palace that they would need to right the wrongs of their 0-0 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion a fortnight ago.
The only absentee from the Arsenal side was Granit Xhaka, who likely won’t feature for the club again until the new year, which allowed Nicolas Pépé to drop into the team as Arsenal opted for a 4-3-3 formation.
For the most part, this seemed a good strategy. Arsenal found themselves a goal to the good inside of 8 minutes, courtesy of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s back post rebound after Pépé’s initial shot was acrobatically saved by Vincente Guaita.
But, in true Arsenal fashion, the team took their foot off the proverbial gas and allowed Crystal Palace to gradually worm their way back into the game.
A controversial incident saw James McArthur lucky to escape a red card after (accidentally it has to be said) booting Bukayo Saka’s standing leg after the whistle had gone, forcing the youngster off at half-time.
After that, the Arsenal everyone has come to know of the past 8 years or so began to creep back in. Thomas Partey’s total lack of positional awareness allowed him to be easily closed down, leaving Arsenal’s defence totally exposed and despite Kieran Tierney’s best efforts, Christian Benteke was their to slot it home to bring the visitors level.
But it wasn’t over yet, Albert Sambi Lokonga was caught out in exactly the same way as Partey, which allowed Palace to break through, culminating in Odsonne Édouard having a clean run of goal as Ben White backed off as much as he could, which gave the Frenchman invitation to shoot, which he did, dispatching the ball ferociously past Aaron Ramsdale to give Palace a deserved lead.
Arsenal pushed on and on, but never really looked like scoring. It was a tepid display in both attack and defence and it was only through a last gasp shot from Ben White, which trickled it’s way to the substitute Alexandre Lacazette, who lashed it home from close range to salvage an utterly undeserved point.
It was a pathetic display, it had to be said. Arsenal looked utterly devoid of ideas and as though a single gust of wind would blow them over. There was no spark in the team and though Martin Ødegaard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang dutifully led the high-press, no one else really followed through and the introduction of Alexandre Lacazette seemed to be the only thing that gave Arsenal hope as the Frenchman linked up well with Aubameyang.
It was a particularly awful night for the usually excellent Thomas Partey. There is perhaps not too much to be concerned about for the long-term, but the Ghanian’s performance in midfield was a worrying aspect of the team’s performance. Partey was easily closed down, his distribution was awful and he looked like he needed a proper central midfielder alongside him.
Another issue seems to crop up on the form of Gabriel Martinelli. Martinelli has found first-team opportunities thin on the ground at the Emirates this season and his late introduction begged the ternal question, why was he brought on so late? Martinelli didn’t have quite the impact fans were hoping for, but there was enough there to suggest that he should be making more regular appearances and yet, Nicolas Pépé was preferred to the talented Brazilian and the Ivorian was once again, lacklustre.
The game seemed to echo the worrying trend that has plagued Mikel Arteta for some time. Without his perfect XI, he cannot win. Arsenal fans will of course have seen him beat teams without his best XI, but those wins are becoming few and far between.
No Xhaka meant that Arsenal had no one in midfield to help PArtey out and seemed to contribute to the lack of a Plan B. But for Xhaka, Arteta had near enough his perfect XI and was unable to come up with the goods. This is something that Arsenal fans may need more data on, but the fact that an entire game plan can fall apart if just one player is missing (a player Arsenal tried, in earnest, to bin off this summer) is worrying.
Arsenal now face off against Aston Villa on Friday night and if their performance last night is anything to go by, it’s going to be a very tough game for them unless they can really sort things out.
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu
4.) Ben White
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney
5.) Thomas Partey (Martinelli 81’)
8.) Martin Ødegaard (Lacazette 67’)
10.) Emile Smith Rowe
7.) Bukayo Saka (Lokonga 45’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
1.) Bernd Leno
16.) Rob Holding
17.) Cédric Soares
20.) Nuno Tavares
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Crystal Palace team:
13.) Vincente Guaita
2.) Joel Ward
16.) Joachim Andersen
6.) Marc Guéhi
3.) Tyrick Mitchell
4.) Luka Milivojević (c) (Kouyaté 67’)
18.) James McArthur
9.) Jordan Ayew (Olise 71’)
23.) Conor Gallagher
22.) Odsonne Édouard (Tomkins 82’)
20.) Christian Benteke
Crystal Palace subs:
1.) Jack Butland
5.) James Tomkins
34.) Martin Kelly
8.) Cheikhou Kouytaté
17.) Nathaniel Clyne
15.) Jeffrey Schlüpp
12.) Will Hughes
7.) Michael Olise
14.) Jean-Philippe Mateta