I think some of us fans perhaps got carried away with our recent form. It made us think that we perhaps weren’t desperately in need for a creative midfielder. This is the only positive I can take from the game; that the board will be reminded not to take any shortcuts in this January.
Overall it was a very poor game and I think there are many reasons for that. Naturally, it is a heavily congested moment in the season in terms of how much football everyone has been playing. These kind of flat performances have been increasingly common among all teams. Even United and City could only muster 1-0 victories. United I thought especially were no better than we were against Palace.
The other thing that really cost us was not having Tierney or a natural left footer to overlap Aubameyang. Ainsley simply did not have the confidence or faith in that left foot to overlap. This I think made Arteta completely reshuffle his thinking for the game. He seemed to take Pep’s approach to modern fullbacks in having them effectively join central midfield and then making the likes of Smith Rowe, Auba and Saka operate in the far wide positions. For me, this doesn’t really make sense. For Manchester City it works because they have De Bruyne, Foden and Bernardo Silva. This way of playing is all about possession retention and City know if they keep the ball for long enough, one of those players is going to make something happen. Arsenal don’t really have that luxury; coming into this game we look most dangerous with our fullbacks bombing forward, allowing Auba and Saka to operate in more off-centre positions where they can make things happen. Instead, these two seemed to always have two players marking them. When we eventually put Saka on at LB, Palace had everyone behind the ball making it very difficult for us to create anything.
But I think the main issue was a lack of creativity and primarily, a lack of confidence in being able to actually complete a take on. Too many times did we make the easy pass in situations where we were one step away from opening the Palace midfield up with a take on. Nobody seemed to want to do that. Even the likes of Pepe and Saka always wanted to pass it off to somebody else. However, this is where I want to give credit to Dani Ceballos. He is in a tricky position where he is the only player of his profile at the club; a true deep-lying playmaker. But I thought he was having a good game. Generally speaking, we were so slow in building out from the back unless we went through him. He was very happy to drive the ball forwards as well and demonstrated a range of passes, both short and long. Effectively, he looked like the only player on the pitch willing to take some risks. Why we subbed him off and not Xhaka when we were chasing a goal is beyond me. I’m not saying Xhaka played badly but Ceballos gives you more going forward.
It clearly shows we are still in need of a deep-lying playmaker in the market to play alongside Partey and we also need a number 10; it isn’t fair to rely so heavily on Smith Rowe and Saka to be our sole chance creators. For me, these targets should be Buendia and either Brandt or Sabitzer. These two signings give us so many different ways to play and bring a bit more quality in our most under-manned positions.
Photo: Kieran Clarke