Our winning run came to an end today but we remain unbeaten. Not the result we hoped for but overall I reckon Palace deserved a point and an away draw isn’t too bad a result. Yet I reckon Unai got his subs wrong today and that may have cost us…
Eight initial observations:
- Breaking up the Xhaka-Torreira combo in de double-DM positions probably cost us two points today. Guendouzi did not play badly but he is no Xhaka when it comes to simply controlling the game, protecting the shape of the team and finding that extra man with quick diagonal balls. Guendouzi likes to run with the ball – a bit like Rambo does – whereas Xhaka likes to receive the ball in space with the aim to find the best free man available. Torreira and Xhaka look like partners whereas Torreira and Guendouzi looked like two einzelgangers. I didn’t think the CBs had the same level of cover from the double DM-pivot as in previous games either. As a result we looked messy and nervous for 90 minutes and in the end we paid for it;
- Palace were well set up in defence and clearly were keen to avoid our FBs to get behind them. At the same time, the Eagles targeted our FB-areas to cause us damage and we looked vulnerable on both sides. Emery made a change at half time but he didn’t really have many options. Still, we played better with Licht at RB, but the return of Nacho and Kola cannot come soon enough;
- Iwobi and Ozil were less effective and I reckon this was due to the lack of quick balls to them from the midfielders – see also my first point. I expected us to increase the tempo in the second half and we did start well, but we lacked shape and our passing was not sharp enough for the entire game, whereas usually it is much better in the second half at least;
- I did not understand Unai’s decision to take Mesut off. If it had been for another creative midfielder like Mkhi or Rambo I could have lived with it, but Ozil out Welbeck in didn’t make sense to me. We lost our impetus to attack and looked even more disorganised. Ramsey came on later but he never got into the game, understandably so given the little time he was given to have an impact. Emery’s subs have been fab until now so I am not going to be too critical, but I didn’t understand the Danny for Mesut subbing;
- I was getting used to Auba coming on after 60 minutes and give the team that shot in the arm. Today AubaCazette started and it did not really work. Auba got his goal anyway, but a start for Welbeck or Mkhi had my preference today. Auba and Xhaka did not give us much from the left flank today but then you can argue that both players are not at their best on the left;
- How good is Torreira?! Graeme Souness said last week that Torreira is ‘neat and tidy’ indicating that he was not more than a hard working, decent midfielder. I would say that Souness’ commentary is not even ‘neat and tidy’ but that is for another time. Torreira gives us shape at the back whereas Xhaka gives us shape in attack and together they strengthen each other at each side of the pitch. Lucas’ ability to anticipate danger and where the ball will be next is very, very good, and so is his first touch and quick passing ability. These are the sort of deeper midfielders that make a team tick: What a gem!;
- We allowed CP too often into our box and I was not impressed with the Leno-Mustafi-Holding triangle today. Mustafi was clumsy when given the first pen away, but all three showed little calm and looked all over the place at time. To be fair, without the Xhaka-Torreira protection and no Nacho to help out either, it was never going to be an easy game for them. Holding on the other hand had a good individual game;
- Yet in spite of all the above observations, we would have won the game if the gullible Atkinson had not given a second pen against us. Yes we were lucky too with the referee not spotting that Laca’s hand had touched the ball for our second goal, but the Palace players had been trying to get pens all afternoon and he fell for the Zaha move (to be fair I did too initially, but I ain’t a ref…).
All in all, I am happy with the point and I hope that Unai will have learned a few things from it.