Top Ten Finish Will Be A Successful Season

A well deserved point taken from the Gunners at the weekend, but what did we learn from the game?

1. Palace need to snap out of the habit of starting games slowly. There is no doubt a tactical reason for it, mainly that Roy Hodgson likes his side to stay in games for as long as possible before letting the shackles off for the last 30 minutes. It would of course be unrealistic to expect Palace to keep up the kind of intensity they do in the closing stages of a game for an entire match, but there is at least a balance to be had. Against Arsenal, Palace were so lethargic in the opening stages that they made it seem as if they were playing against one of the great Gunners sides, rather than a team sitting one place below them. It was only when Arsenal refused to return the ball to their hosts after a stoppage in play that Palace snapped out of their slumber and started to pressure the away side into mistakes. By that point, though, Palace were already a goal down and found themselves once again left chasing a game.

2. Palace’s injury crisis handed Jairo Riedewald a lifeline. Four Premier League starts in a row later it would be fair to say that the Dutchman has taken it. Many Palace fans have felt there is unlocked potential in Riedewald – you don’t come through the Ajax academy and start a Europa League final without being a good player – which is why his absence from even the matchday squad for the past two years has often been so baffling. Riedewald showed glimpses of his ability against Southampton and Norwich, but his most rounded performance came against Arsenal on Saturday, when he was strong in the tackle, composed on the ball and genuinely looked an accomplished Premier League left back. Riedewald’s resurgence means Palace no longer need to prioritise cover for Patrick van Aanholt, while it is clear that he has the footballing ability to play in midfield if required. The only question mark Riedewald’s performances have raised is why, exactly, has he gone underutilised in such a thin squad for so long? That is a question only Hodgson will know the answer to.

3. Sometimes you don’t miss something until it’s gone. Or, in Palace’s case, you don’t realise you need Luka Milivojevic until he isn’t playing. Palace’s captain has polarised the fanbase this season, but most were in agreement that his red card against Derby County was reckless given the current fitness of the squad. In any case, Saturday’s game showed that the Serbian remains the glue that holds Palace’s midfield together. The first half saw Arsenal play the ball through the Eagles’ midfield three at will, a channel which Milivojevic is often good at blocking, and it was through that route that Arsenal scored their goal. And as bad as many believe Milivojevic’s distribution to be, he remains the best passer of the ball in Palace’s midfield, which was evident from the home side’s struggles to retain possession on Saturday. Milivojevic has undoubtedly been below par this season, but it’s games like Saturday that show why Hodgson continues to play him, and why we should hope that three games off will be the rest he needs to return to top form.

4. Anyone else getting tired of seeing Vicente Guaita highlight reels? Nope, me neither. While it was disappointing that Palace were unable to create more chances after Aubameyang’s red card, it would have been even more dispiriting to see Pepe’s late effort nestle in the bottom corner, or indeed Lacazette’s follow up go in. With another keeper in goal that might have happened, and we’d find ourselves looking back on another game where Palace had failed to prosper from a man advantage. However, as I’ve said on a number of occasions, having Guaita means Palace now have more lives. I didn’t have the privilege of watching Nigel Martyn, but the Spaniard is quickly becoming part of the conversation about the best keepers to have played for the club.

5. If you aren’t going to win, don’t get beat. That appears to be Palace’s motto this season, having lost just seven times during the campaign, surrendering all three points just once to a team outside the top six. It has not always been pretty – and there is reason to believe that some draws should have been more – but Palace sit seven points better off than they did at the this stage last year. Saturday was another example of a game that could have got away from the Eagles, but they once again found a way to pave a path back into the game and grind out a result. There will be an expectation now that – with players returning to fitness, more additions hopefully joining before the end of January and Palace closing in on the 40-point mark – Hodgson will take more risks in games, but even if the team crawls to a top-half finish it will be considered a successful season.

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