Under the influence of Patrick Vieira, Crystal Palace have put on a show this season, beating several of the league’s most formidable sides. Shock wins against Manchester City and Nuno’s Spurs will live long in the memory of Palace fans, but few of their performances can top this past weekend, when they creamed Mikel Arteta’s in form Arsenal by a score of 3-0. Here is our analysis of how Palace pulled off the remarkable.
SYSTEM OF PLAY: 4-2-3-1
Crystal Palace shifted out of their traditional Vieira-imposed 4-3-3 formation, opting for a 4-2-3-1 instead. The change worked to perfection, pushing Gallagher into relatively central channels in both attack and defense. However, throughout the game, elements of the 4-3-3 remained. Conor Gallagher’s position was slightly offset to the right, and Kouyate hung out in the centre of the pitch, screening Alexandre Lacazette in the process. Jean-Philippe Mateta meanwhile often operated with a skew toward the left, allowing Gallagher to roam down the right. Throughout the season in the 4-3-3, Gallagher will join the first line of pressure, and then bounce off the striker in attack. However, his role in this particular match were much truer to that of a ‘number 10’ than an ‘8’.Embed from Getty Images
Vieira selected a straightforward lineup for the match, with only three changes from the team that rocked Everton 4-0 the week prior. Vicente Guaita, Jeffrey Schlupp and Jordan Ayew were the players to enter the frame, with Nathaniel Clyne continuing to hold down a place ahead of team captain Joel Ward. Interestingly enough, with both Luka Milivojevic and Ward waiting in the wings, 21-year-old Marc Guehi took on the captain’s armband. This is a real testament to Guehi’s performances this season, having only joined the team last July. The former Chelsea man had a fine evening, contributing massively to the lackluster nature of Arsenal’s attack. But it was his partner Joachim Andersen who stole more of the headlines, accumulating two assists on the day.
OUT OF POSSESSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Crystal Palace defended in a compact 4-2-3-1 shape, leaving little room for Arsenal to play through the thirds. Defending most of the match in a mid-block, Palace pressed from the front with relative fervidity, floating in and out of a 4-4-2 back into their 4-2-3-1. The front four worked to anticipate every pass, with the back-four bounded together by an imaginary rope. Gallagher and Mateta worked to sandwich Arsenal’s single pivot, and then individually press the centre-backs to limit time and space, before resetting the sandwich. On back passes to the keeper, Gallagher pressured alone, as the back-four dropped off and prepared themselves to win the subsequent headers. They were always successful in doing so, with Arsenal lacking any sense of aerial presence or height.
With little in the way of positional rotation or fluidity, the Gunners made Palace’s attempts to man-mark key individuals seamless. Martin Ødegaard operated exclusively in right half-spaces, where Jeffrey Schlupp screened him. Schlupp never has any problem doing the dirty work, and made a massive contribution on the day despite barely touching the ball. Speaking of barely touching the ball, Cheikhou Kouyate had very little to do in possession, but shuffled well from side to side to screen Alexandre Lacazette, sitting directly in front of his centre-backs. When at their best, Arsenal have the capacity to pull players completely out of position, through individual skill and rotation. However, with the likes of Schlupp, Gallagher, Mateta and Kouyate limiting central penetration, Arsenal could never work the ball into the right areas to let their magic take centre stage. Vieira’s man-oriented marking schemes put sound structures in place for players to hold down clearly defined roles, and Arsenal never broke out of their slump to cause chaos to that mix.
Toward the end of the match, the 4-2-3-1 became more of a 4-5-1 as Gallagher settled into his normal right-sided position. Palace then played more on the break, allowing Arsenal the lion’s share of the possession. It was at this time in the match where Arsenal were able to generate their most fruitful chances, such as Eddie Nketiah’s curled post clip from outside the box. Arsenal kept pushing and probing as the match wore on, but they could never find a way past Guaita or the structures ahead of him. Palace held strong to stop Arsenal generating quality chances, and the likes of Guehi and Mitchell looked fired up from their England call-ups. Mitchell had plenty of time to study up on Bukayo Saka away at international duty, and clearly studied well – winning 3 tackles on the night.
The defensive masterclass from Vieira’s men earned Palace their fourth consecutive clean sheet, and one that takes them ahead of the number of clean sheets they accumulated in the whole of last season under Roy Hodgson.
IN POSSESSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Crystal Palace and counter-attacking were synonymous under the Roy Hodgson days, and they’ve continued their counter-attacking approach in all of their big wins this season. Don’t get us wrong. Palace had brilliant spells of possession, and passed the ball around with supreme patience for long periods. However, they defended for most of the game, before using the pace and power of Wilfried Zaha and Conor Gallagher in transition. Both sought out space in between Arsenal’s fullback and centre-back on their respective sides, receiving progressive passes upon a rampaging run and creating from wide. Zaha played with a particularly deadly ferocity on the night, dominating his 1v1 duels. His best moment of the game came shortly after a Palace regain, where he weaved in out of traffic, sprinted up the field, held the ball against four defenders, and won a penalty kick for his team’s third goal of the game.Embed from Getty Images
The 29-year-old Ivorian ran riot around Cedric Soares all night long, using his trickery to help his team advance down the left with a 48% skew. He frequently released Mateta in the wide areas with incisive passes, or won fouls for his team that could later be converted. With Zaha in full flow, Palace conjured up five shots on target to Arsenal’s three, despite just 31% of the possession.
But even if you’ve only seen the stats for the game, you’ll know that this was a full-hearted team performance, starting right from the back end of the pitch with the centre-backs. Joachim Andersen assisted two goals on the day, and Marc Guehi’s confidence on the ball created Andersen’s ability to fire the ball into the danger area on the first goal. The composure of the single-day captain created the necessary space for Andersen to pick out the right pass, where Jordan Ayew then showed his class with a magnificent first touch into space. Aided by Nuno Tavares’ nonsensical decision to step back rather than forward after the ball left Andersen’s foot, Ayew found the gap to take the ball into his path, before slotting home.Embed from Getty Images
Conor Gallagher also played his part as expected, contributing to the first with a brilliant free kick curled toward the far-post. Andersen used his aerial presence to head the ball on, Ben White was caught ball watching when he should have been tracking Mateta, and the former Mainz man used that brief second to advance toward the six and head the ball into the back of the net. Given Palace’s threat when attacking set-pieces, their ability to win 14 fouls on the day only aided their massive win.
CONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
After a massive win against Arsenal, Crystal Palace are now up to ninth in the table. On a seven match unbeaten and four match clean sheet run, Vieira’s men continue to play full of heart and intensity, and will be difficult to beat moving forward. The Gunners meanwhile fall outside the top four for the first time in months, with Tottenham moving into poll position. But with Palace playing so remarkably well, it’s difficult to see what lessons Arteta and Arsenal can truly take away from the match. They could have used more rotation and individuality to disrupt Palace’s compact, man-oriented 4-2-3-1, but even that is more of a testament to Vieira’s team. So instead of the Gunners holding down fourth for another week, the dream season for the Eagles continues, with Patrick Vieira showcasing his class for another day.
Don’t forget to check out…
-> Patrick Vieira – Crystal Palace – Tactical Analysis
-> How Crystal Palace shocked Tottenham Hotspur – Tactical Analysis
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