Crystal Palace have been in fine form in the opening weeks of the season, but Patrick Vieira’s charges have encountered their first potential hurdle of his reign.
Key midfielder James McArthur has been ruled out of action for up to six weeks after picking up a hamstring injury, and how they cope with his enforced absence will be a significant test.
The 34-year-old played no part in the Eagles’ 3-3 draw with Burnley last time out due to the problem, yet he had started all 11 of their previous top-flight fixtures.
And despite his age, McArthur had been putting in consistently exceptional performances alongside Conor Gallagher in the engine room, with his underlying numbers highlighting his quality.
As per WhoScored, the former Scotland international has averaged 2.3 tackles per Premier League fixture this season, 1.2 interceptions and 1.8 defensive dribbles, placing him in the top-four amongst his teammates for each metric.
The experienced Cheikhou Kouyaté did a solid job of standing in for the diminutive dynamo over the weekend for the trip to Turf Moor, but the long-term solution may lie elsewhere.
Summer signing Will Hughes is yet to kick a ball in vain for Vieira’s charges following his switch from Watford for an initial £6m fee, and McArthur’s lengthy spell on the sidelines could be the ideal opportunity for him to showcase his credentials.
In a recent report, The Athletic’s Matt Woosnam revealed the 26-year-old was brought to Selhurst Park as McArthur’s ‘long-term replacement’, meaning the next few weeks will be crucial for him to back that belief up.
“Hughes was brought in to provide cover and competition in the squad, not as a guaranteed starter,” wrote Woosnam.
“At 26, his role is considered to be as a long-term replacement for McArthur, who is unlikely to continue playing at the top level for too much longer even if he is showing little sign of slowing down yet.”
Therefore, Vieira must unleash him in the enticing run of fixtures ahead, allowing Hughes to settle into his new role and surroundings after a frustrating stint on the substitute’s bench.