Post-Match Review: Crystal Palace vs Arsenal (A) - Ten-Man wonder team
I set an objective of what I felt Arsenal should achieve with Match week two. They were: 1. 3 Pts (as basic as it gets, but the most important). 2. Clean Sheet(so if 3 points were "must-haves", this is "should have", and we should do our best to make this happen). 3. Cover Goal Difference (as close as we can get). So, I will majorly surround my article with these three points.
While writing this, I realised this is a set of objectives that I expect out of Arsenal each week anyway, but it also gives me the ability to analyse the match in this manner. How we got the 3 points or, god forbid if ever there was a scenario where we didn't, if and how we keep clean sheets and goal difference, GD could mean not only the actual GD but also differences between our game and the challengers. So, while I float with the idea of using this as a format, I hope you enjoy my point of view.
On a day when Arsenal should have walked into Selhurst Park, scored some great goals and walked out with 3 points as clear as the moon in daylight, we did walk away with those points, but it was not so straightforward. In my last article, PMR: Arsenal vs Forest. You can record me saying I would much rather prefer a simple 3 points than having a heart attack, and, this time, my heart was in my mouth. This one was undoubtedly a nerve-racker. Here's how it unfolded.
It was a domineering start from The Arsenal, playing attacking football from the get-go, 2 minutes in, and Martinelli, if he had taken a shot sooner, would have been a superficial goal. We were clicking, we were attacking, we were dynamic in all areas. Crystal Palace was doing their bit trying to intercept, but we were stronger among the two teams. Our midfield was a delight. Though Palace were able to counter us with their speed and due to a weak left-back position, with Tomiyasu still struggling with fitness and not 100% and Timber being out for a lengthy period or maybe this entire season, Zinny on the bench, Palace got the better of him.
Fifteen minutes into the game, Palace's Ayew beat Tomiyasu and put the ball in the 6-yard box. It was very threatening, and if Ayew had found a teammate, it could have been a different story. While Palace took their chances, Arsenal were building on to their start.
A valiant effort to score began from the right, Havertz tackling the ball initially from Palace onto Saka, who dispossessed Schlupp and directed it towards Nketiah, who turned and squeezed through between the Palace defence and charged towards the goal. His shot was reflected from the base of the far left post with no one to collect. He should have gone for power and taken the shot much earlier. This wouldn't be the only shot Eddie misses; another one should have seen the back of the net, but Eddie lacked the accuracy and hit the shot over the top of the crossbar. Nketiah struggled with finishing, and I have no doubt we will see him practice harder and come back stronger.
During the first half, after the first 25 minutes, we controlled the possession and played superb Arteta ball, precision passing, passing through the defenders, and players running up/ down the field. Our aggressive start seemed to diminish with each of the Palace's counter efforts; two strong balls inside our box did so to rattle our nerves, yet I was not worried defensively. That is one of the reasons why Ramsdale & Arsenal kept a clean sheet. We'll see more on this later.
The second opportunity to score for Eddie began with a play coming off Declan Rice, who heads the ball towards Nketiah. The shot should have gone in, one-on-one with the Keeper and too little too late, Eddie chips the ball over the Keeper. In my opinion, and you could hear the commentator say the same, he should have tried to nutmeg the Keeper or hit it with power.
Ødegaard could have scored a screamer but was deflected over the bar by Johnstone; he had to stretch. Ødegaard hit it with such power and accuracy that it reminded me of Saka's solo goal against Forest last week.
The first half saw us dominate the stats but lose shape and see ourselves under pressure. We had to start converting. 5 Minutes into 2nd half, the Gunners had the breakthrough we needed. A freekick for a foul on Saka just ten yards or so out of the box saw Martinelli quickly take it, who spotted a lonely Nketiah, who sprinted after the ball, putting Johnstone under pressure, one-vs-one. Eddie had to make contact, and Johnstone had to keep it clean. Sure enough, Johnstone missed the ball and caught Nkietah on the foot. Whistle blew. It was PENALTY!!
Saka prepared for the Penalty, but at the last minute, Ødegaard stepped up to take it and sure enough, the captain scored for us. A sweet low roll shot at the bottom-left corner and Johnstone reading it completely wrong and going the other way meant Arsenal were now 1-0 up, whereas they were supposed to be 3-0. After the match, in the press, Arteta, in the post-match interview, was asked about Saka not taking Penalty. It was the player's decision. I don't think we should read much into it. It was a tactical call from the players. You can hear more about it on YouTube or Arsenal.com. And what it means for us will be seen in the coming days.
While this should have continued and substitution would have been adequate to ensure the run against Palace continued, a 67th-minute departure for Tomiyasu, after receiving the two yellow cards in 5 minutes, saw him get a Red and was sent off the field.
It all began with a throw-in, which initially was supposed to be taken by Havertz, who passed it onto Tomiyasu mere seconds before throwing the ball in. The on-field referee decided enough time had elapsed and chose to book Tomiyasu instead of Havertz, who took around 15-20 seconds before passing the ball to Tomiyasu, who held the ball for a mere 8 seconds. It later came to bite us back in the ass. Around the 65th minute of the game, Palace found a break for the counter. Ayew was on the counter; Tomiyasu had a slight touch and pulled onto the shirt. There wasn't much contact, and he was penalised too harshly.
After going a man down, the situation took aback Arsenal, and we had to prepare for the worst. Would a ten-man Arsenal team stand gallantly against the Palace side? Turns out they can, and they did.
With ten men and a 1-0 scoreline, the game could go anyway; sure enough, Palace had so many crucial moments inside the box, one of them going in, and we would not have been one of the three teams to win a game this match week.
To conclude our 3 points: Arsenal, even with ten men, could have easily been in the clear if we had converted our chances. After 20-25 minutes, the Gunners gave away a few too many balls, and we lost slight touch on our passing. At times, Palace players were cheeky with the ball, dribbling pass through us, and I think it got to us. But, what saw us through was our mindset. It was far superior. We came into the game as clear winners, and you could see on the Gunner's faces, manager and staff included. We weren't sure with ten men; it got challenging, but we didn't lose touch with the game; we kept at it and got better. We were the better side, even with 7 minutes of extra time towards the end. Arsenal should have won the game in the first 45 minutes, but it went down to the wire. Positively, we shone because our defensive play was more vital than ever.
Fifteen minutes into the game, Palace's Ayew beat Tomiyasu and put the ball in the 6-yard box. It was very threatening, and if Ayew had found a teammate, it could have been a different story.
I was never worried about Palace. I was not blind to the possibility of them scoring against us, but I could completely rule it out when I saw Saliba intercept the pass from Ayew in the 6-yard box in the first 10 minutes of the game. Sure enough, Arsenal held most of the possession in the first half, giving us the confidence to amuse ourselves. We were passing more confidently and attacking, and our players made it seem like we were toying with them. As highlighted in the 3-point section, Arsenal did everything right. It had the ball, but we weren't clinical. We didn't finish, whereas Palace took even the remotest of chances to score, keeping Ramsdale busy, especially in the 2nd half after Tomiyasu's departure.
For the onlookers and someone like me not technically sound, it would have seemed as if Arsenal were trying to tire out Palace's defence and later, when the substitutions were brought on, make it challenging to stick with them. Likes of Trossard could have eaten Palace's defence. Unfortunately, we couldn't bring him on. Tomi's red card meant Gabriel was subbed in for Martinelli, which Arteta and the team figured needed to be done. Saka played LB, Havertz played forwards, and everyone else in defence. Suddenly, The agony increased. Palace had the possession now, and they were knocking on our doors. Partey, Rice, White, Saliba, and Gabriel held down our fort. They shielded Ramsdale, and when it mattered, Ramsdale threw the gauntlet down and took it head-on against the Palace attack. It was our luck that Palace wasn't critical that evening, and our defences were solid. There was a shout for a Penalty by Palace, and the referee and VAR decided not to be.
We don't know why Gabriel is not starting the games for us, and the reason is not because he is being transferred. As assured by Big Gabby, Arteta and countless other sources, he is happy at Arsenal. He will not be leaving. His performance in defence was a stand-out. What he brings while being paired with Saliba is nothing short of extraordinaire.
Once the nerve settled and a couple of intelligent substitutions, Eddie for Jorginho. Zinchenko and Kiwior later meant the side was now stable. Arsenal were able to hold the fort, and if need be, I'm confident we shall be able to do so against the Top 6 teams as well. I hope that's not the case, but as Rice said in his Post Match Interview with Sky: "These are the games we need to come and win to win the title".
Unlike the first two objectives, the Goal Difference is a "could have" momentarily. It is not crucial, but it's better not to let it slip away. With two matches played, Arsenal are 3rd on the table with equal points to the top 3. Brighton/ City then us with GD of +6, +4, +2 respectively. I am not worried about it, but I want us to balance it with games in our favour.
To conclude, when we were a man down, it didn't worry me in the sense that we were losing this. It was more like how do we hold on to the lead? I knew somewhere deep down we were going to see this through, so the thought in my mind was to see if we change our style of play. We are a Top 4 team and title challenger, and I didn't expect us to go down without a fight. And neither did I expect us to change our style of play or start being defensive suddenly.
After the Red Card, Arsenal was being reserved for a second, sitting deep until reinforcements came in. We could return to our attacking play style when Arteta brought on Zinny, Kiwior and Jirginho. There was a sense of bullish achievement. Seeing this game through was our pièce de résistance. But even then, it wasn't like us to fall back. And this goes back to the very beginning. If we had converted and killed the game in the first half, our being ten men down wouldn't have mattered. But I am happy on the day it did; we weren't Toy Soldiers but warriors who won fair and square.
On a side note, there were a lot of questions and arguments raised by fans on Havertz. I don't understand what a lot of you were bickering about. Yes, he wasn't the most flamboyant, but if you look closely, most of our midfield brilliance and attacking plays Havertz facilitated them. Him being at the right place, doing the right things. I am confident there is a goal coming from him soon. And his Champions League experience will go into effect soon.
This one's for Timber
This one's for Tomi.
Until Next Time | Up The Arsenal
Live Long & Prosper🖖