Ben Welch was in the Selhurst Park press box for Arsenal's win at Crystal Palace...
1. Mesut was Magic - keep him so
Mesut Ozil divides opinion. Advocates gush over his languid brilliance. Detractors criticise his phlegmatic approach. No matter what side you take, there’s no undermining his performance against Palace. The German international was Arsenal’s central nervous system – his intelligent movement saw him lurk menacingly off Olivier Giroud.
Once in possession his deft touches and incisive passing tormented the home side. Ozil made more passes in the attacking third than any other player (37) and only misplaced 1. His creativity led to 5 goalscoring opportunities, one of which was converted brilliantly by Giroud.
So bewitching was his display, the Palace players stood off and admired. Caught between a game plan of staying compact and trying to frustrate Arsenal and wanting to have a go at the visitors with their pace in attack, pockets of space opened up between Palace’s different units, which Ozil exploited.
Yohan Cabaye did his best to shackle Arsenal’s playmaker, but he didn’t get enough support from James McArthur. Ozil is king again (until he has an off-day and immediately turns into a terrible player) and he needs to be supported so that he remains so for the majority of the season.
2. Get the Coq blocking more
Arsenal’s full-backs are usually so far up the pitch they could be mistaken for strikers, but against Crystal Palace they played with a little more caution. Conscious the hosts could expose space left in behind with the jet-heeled Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha operating on the wings, they didn’t apply their usual cavalier approach.
Instead, Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal played with real tactical nous – they joined the attack at the right time, without leaving Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny completely exposed. As a result, Arsenal lacked width, but when they did deliver from the channels they punished Palace – both their goals came from crosses into the box.
It helped having Francis Coquelin standing guard in front of the back four. The Frenchman helped to shut down Palace’s speedsters before they could hurt the Gunners. Coquelin was the game’s top tackler (6) and made 11 ball recoveries – matched only by Santi Cazorla. He also topped the charts for blocks (2).
Unfortunately, Coquelin’s liking for close-quarter combat almost earned him a dismissal. Arsene Wenger shrewdly took him off in the 64th minute before he got sent off. Before that, Coquelin’s support of the full-backs helped thwart Bolasie and Zaha, which led to the former being substituted at half-time. When Palace went with a more direct approach, Mertesacker & Co. did well to get on top of Wickham, who only won 3 of his 9 aerial duels.
3. Alexis Sanchez is the main man, Ramsey is the wrong man
The Chilean schemer’s aggression, pace and urgency take Arsenal to another level. His lacklustre finishing suggests he still needs a few more games to reach optimum sharpness, but the impact of his guile gave a reminder of what he brings to the team.
It also underlined why Aaron Ramsey is the wrong man for the right wing. For all his industry and smart play the Welshman lacks the explosive pace a wide player needs to hurt teams. Crowbarring the central midfielder into the team limits the threat from the channels.
Speed kings Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be far more effective in this role. The latter was the match-winner against Chelsea in the Community Shield on the right of a three behind the lone striker and he was Arsenal’s most dangerous player during their opening-day defeat to West Ham United. Arsenal got away with it on this occasion but need a balanced attack, armed with pace.
4. Giroud can create and conquer
No matter what the Frenchman does, he’s not good enough for some pundits and fans. He may fall short of the world-class bracket, but he does add another dimension to Arsenal’s attack. Surrounded by a cadre of pint-sized playmakers, he’s a physical presence than enables the Gunners to play direct.
Giroud’s link-up play is clever and by feeding the ball into him, Arsenal’s creative forces can get the ball in dangerous areas in and around the box. His stats from the Palace game aren’t that impressive – his pass completion rate was only 58%, with just 5 of the 13 made in the final third finding their target – but just his presence does enough to occupy central defenders, creating space for advancing midfielders. It was Giroud’s goal that gave the Gunners the lead, and what a strike it was. The France international opened the scoring with a magnificent scissors-kick.
5. Defensive lapses could Kos Arsenal; improvement needed
Despite an improved defensive display, Arsenal’s concentration levels still dipped. Too often they took risks in dangerous areas. Whether it was choosing the wrong pass or getting caught in possession, Arsenal put themselves under unnecessary pressure.
Palace’s equaliser demonstrated a lack of intensity that title-winning teams need. When Bolasie chested Puncheon’s cross-field ball into the feet of Joel Ward, Koscielny needed to swarm the defender. Instead he stood off and turned his back as the right-back sent a daisy-cutter past Petr Cech and into the bottom corner.
The French defender isn’t a coward. He isn’t afraid of the ball. He just wasn’t fully focused. He reacted too late and half-heartedly tried to block the shot. Can you imagine Tony Adams, at the height of his powers, doing something like this?
Palace 1-2 Arsenal
- Arsenal’s last 3 Premier League clashes with Crystal Palace have all ended in 2-1 victories for the Gunners.
- The Eagles have registered just 3 victories in their last 12 Premier League London derbies (D3 L6).
- Arsenal's first PL goal of the season has been scored by a Frenchman in each of the last 3 campaigns.
- Giroud has scored in each of his 3 PL appearances at Selhurst Park against Palace.
- Arsenal have only kept 1 clean sheet in their last 8 Premier League away games.
- Two of the 3 goals Arsenal have conceded in the Premier League this season have come from from outside the box, compared to 3 out of 36 in total last season.
- Prior to today’s game, Damien Delaney was also responsible for Crystal Palace's last own-goal in the Premier League - in May 2014 against Liverpool.
- Mesut Ozil misplaced just 1 of his 55 passes in the game.