In such a non-entity, it’s a challenge to comb even for the finest of details. While it’s easy to be disappointed at the result on paper, a draw maybe even flattered Arsenal given the need for the crossbar’s helping hand and Leno’s acrobatics.
It’s still the early stages of damage limitations after such a horrendous start to the season, and given our recent problems against Palace, it’s not a disaster to lose some momentum. As bad as they are defensively, bogey teams tend to exist for a reason as much as the statistics might appear to be in our favour. None of this was helped by playing 120 minutes against a stubborn Newcastle either, whose elimination crucially came at a price – to the tune of one. whole Kieran Tierney.
This was bad in its own right because his consistency in the final third is invaluable but his absence just so happened to coincide with Ainsley having a nightmare of a performance, at least on the ball. He wasn’t the only problem going forward – far from it – but there were some really glaring mistakes that were at least out of character.
As taking points go, they were few and far between. Palace were more than happy to sit back, stay organised and hit us on the break and given the problems Zaha and Eze caused in particular, it’s no wonder they were happy to do so for the entirety of the game. In recent weeks, we’ve sometimes managed to get by on a single goal so this result had an air of inevitability about it, as it never the pieces never quite slotted into place. Sometimes the break comes, sometimes it doesn’t.
The most notable break that wasn’t was a case of a cross finding the wrong man, as Hector Bellerín found himself interfering in unfamiliar territory to deny Lacazette loitering behind. It’s one of those which is frustrating to look at and ponder over given how the game unfolded but with Palace missing better chances to score, such things become easier to swallow. Saka, Aubameyang and Maitland-Niles were all able to engineer half-chances for themselves but were never enough to overly trouble Guaita.
The limited opportunities are easily chalked up to post-cup lethargy but the Premier League has no easy games and without quality in depth, you don’t get handouts. Losing Tierney was a blow and you can’t expect miracles when a utility player deputises there, but the lethargy was across the board. Ceballos, Smith Rowe and Saka all had the right kind of energy but never clicked when it mattered, with Palace swarming Smith Rowe in particular before those snappy exchanges could blossom.
Besides the opening 10 minutes of the game where Palace seemed to adopt a surprisingly high line, after settling in and hunkering down, it closed down most of our opportunities to use Luiz and Holding’s ability on the ball to find openings from range. As the match progressed, they became more and more inclined to hold onto the ball and that kind of tempo-setting didn’t exactly help matters. You can probably chalk that up to tiredness and less movement off the ball but there were too many times where a centre-back would dwell in possession and it set the tone.
There was also little to offer from the bench, with Partey’s return too brief and raw to make an impact and Pépé unable to affect the game whatsoever. I was keen to see how he would fare against Zaha, a player whom he is surely aware was snubbed for his own sake, and was at least hoping to see some kind of uptick but that never came. So often caught trying to do too much, only to be dispossessed and with his one-sidedness becoming more exposed with each passing week, he’s becoming easier and easier to nullify. Not exactly a great position for the club to be in, because that looming price tag is never going away. At the very least, Zaha’s insufferable and constant whinnying to anyone that would lend an ear made me glad he was snubbed by Emery’s handlers.
Strangely, the only really notable performances came from Xhaka and Ceballos. The latter had one of those games where he was constantly dipping past players or nutmegging them with his jinking, unpredictable style and he showed energy and interest throughout. Xhaka was.. something else entirely, though. After being a big part of the win against Newcastle with incisive passing, there was more of the same against Palace but with far less consistency. Without some last ditch tackles, like the brilliantly-timed one on Zaha, we may have even been on the wrong end of the result. His future at the club is still a conundrum and you never know which Xhaka is going to turn up, but I guess that’s another case of our problem with quality of depth.
There isn’t long to wait before having a chance to get back on the straight and narrow but it will be another huge test of our resolve.