The Chalkboard: A lack of midfield balance cost Arsenal vs Crystal Palace

Arsenal couldn’t make it 12 wins on the trot on Sunday as they had to settle for a 2-2 draw against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. The Gunners had to deal with injuries and looked to be showing the full effects playing their third game in six days as they laboured to a draw with the Eagles.

On the chalkboard

An injury crisis at left-back meant that Unai Emery had to deploy Granit Xhaka in the unfamiliar defensive position. His absence from the engine room meant that summer signings Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi were partnered up in the centre of the park for the first time.

Both Torreira and Guendouzi were very dogged and dynamic and excelled in breaking up opposition attacks. On the ball, the pair were also able to move the ball about safely and with a minimum of fuss. However, the two battling midfielders lacked penetration and vision in their distribution.

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The Gunners were without a deep-lying playmaker capable of shifting the ball into the attacking third quickly. Arsenal have that player, in Xhaka, but from his left-back berth he was unable to orchestrate the game in his usual fashion. 

The difference

When Xhaka plays in his normal position he is invariably the player in the team (if not on the pitch) who has the most touches and makes the most passes. His presence ensures that Arsenal are able to keep the ball, and his ability to spread the play means that the pitch doesn’t become too cramped and congested in one area.

Without Xhaka to dictate the pace of the game, Palace were able to make the midfield battle a frantic, feisty and scrappy affair which suited them, and ultimately meant that Arsenal were never able to hit their stride and stamp their authority on the game.