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Crystal Palace’s quick Patrick Vieira revolution leaves Arsenal’s foundations looking fragile

·4-min read
Crystal Palace’s quick Patrick Vieira revolution leaves Arsenal’s foundations looking fragile

Patrick Vieira may not have left Emirates Stadium with the three points his Crystal Palace team deserved last night, but he did at least depart knowing he had won the tactical battle against Mikel Arteta.

Before his return to Arsenal, Vieira would have probably settled for a point, but the fact he was so crestfallen at the full-time whistle summed up just how much this draw felt like a defeat.

“I think when you look at how the game went, the way we came back in the second half and scored two goals and then the way we conceded their second goal, I think it is two points lost for us,” said Vieira.

“I’m really disappointed for my players because they played well, showed a lot of character and personality. We are disappointed not leaving with the win.”

Three points would have been no more than Palace deserved on a night that underlined how they are heading in the right direction under Vieira.

Like Arsenal, they are a team going through a transition period, but it is a compliment to the Frenchman that Palace almost feel further along in their rebuild than the Gunners. That is no mean feat when you consider Palace, just like Arsenal, had a big overhaul this summer as they released a string of senior players and tried to blood youth into the side.

So far it is working well, with players such as Conor Gallagher and Odsonne Edouard providing a fresh spark to a side that had at times looked stale under Roy Hodgson.

Palace were bright and vibrant last night and, barring the first 15 minutes, in which Arsenal performed well, the Eagles were by far the better team.

They were compact and well organised, countering with pace and purpose when given the opportunity. Small tactical tweaks, such as pulling Edouard away from the left flank and moving him more central and closer to Christian Benteke, worked well after a poor start.

Arsenal, in contrast, were slow and sloppy and it summed up their night that both of Palace’s goals came from midfielders Thomas Partey and Albert Sambi Lokonga being caught in possession. Both happened in the space of 23 second-half minutes as first Benteke and then Edouard got on the scoresheet to leave Arsenal staring down the barrel.

It had all started so well for Arteta’s side when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finished well from a tight angle after just eight minutes. They never kicked on, though, and that is cause for concern.

“We had no composure on the ball, we started to give the ball away too easily, we didn’t have any sequences in our passes, we wanted to attack in one or two passes and the distances were too big,” said Arteta.

Patrick Vieira and Mikel Arteta embrace before Arsenal play Crystal Palace (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Patrick Vieira and Mikel Arteta embrace before Arsenal play Crystal Palace (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

“I think we put the handbrake on a little bit. We started to defend something. We were not moving fluently enough and taking the right decisions, playing forward more and being more ambitious to score the second goal in that moment.”

The positive for Arsenal is that they did not lose and, after their miserable start to the season, they are now unbeaten in six games. They can also feel aggrieved that James McArthur did not see red for, albeit accidentally, kicking Bukayo Saka before half-time and forcing the England winger to go off.

“I saw the action and I can’t believe how the player continued on the pitch,” said Arteta.

Arsenal showed spirit to equalise right at the death, too, through Alexandre Lacazette, who was excellent off the bench, but Arteta will know his side need more than heart to make genuine strides under him.

Arsenal have hardly sparkled during this six-game unbeaten run and the challenge for Arteta is to prove that the win over north London rivals Tottenham, which felt like a landmark moment, was not an anomaly.

At present, the foundations of the Spaniard’s rebuild still feel fragile and performances like last night underline that.

Arsenal were outplayed by a Crystal Palace team shorn of their best player, with Wilfried Zaha out due to illness. Aston Villa is the next test for Arteta, as Arsenal welcome them on Friday.

The Spaniard will hope that is a night that answers questions, instead of creating more.

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