I watched Sunday’s game from a slightly unfamiliar vantage point at the Emirates but it was a similar story for Palace who were again left wondering how they hadn’t won the match. Here are my takeaways from another positive performance that ultimately should have garnered three points.
No Zaha, No Problem
I’ve written countless times in this feature about Palace failing to be competitive in games in which Wilfried Zaha isn’t playing. Indeed, there would have been some trepidation on Monday evening when rumours started to swirl that Arsenal’s tormentor of previous meetings would miss the game through illness, but those fears proved to be unfounded. Palace were able to progress the ball through midfield effectively, got their wide players on the ball and generally looked quite menacing on the counter. Odsonne Edouard, who had his best game so far for Palace, and Conor Gallagher were particularly impressive. Not only that, but there were large periods when the Eagles looked in control of the game, which is something we haven’t been able to ever truly say about Palace at the Emirates, even when their talisman has been playing. Palace undoubtedly remain a better team when Zaha is a part of it, but the fact that they were able to play well without him is another early feather in Patrick Vieira’s cap.
Tyrick Mitchell’s Star Continues To Rise
I was generally unconvinced at the start of the season that Tyrick Mitchell had the tools to establish himself as a long-term replacement at left-back for Patrick van Aanholt, but he now looks every bit a Premier League defender. The Palace academy product once again put up some impressive numbers against Arsenal – shared by the Matchday365 Twitter account – making four tackles, completing two interceptions and winning 100 per cent of his ground duels. Nicolas Pepe, who Mitchell was marking and played well against Palace at Selhurst Park in May, completed just one of his six dribbles and made no key passes. Stats aside, like the rest of the team Mitchell appears to be improving with every game and looks increasingly assured defensively, while he’s also becoming a real asset going forward. At a time when there is so much change happening at the club, it’s great to see another local lad looking so unfazed by whatever’s thrown at him.
Vieira’s Substitutions Have Undesired Effect
It feels harsh to offer a slight criticism of Vieira when Palace’s performances have so far surpassed our expectations, but Monday was the second time in three games where the Eagles have failed to hold on to a slender lead. The Frenchman was rightly praised after his substitutions changed the game when Palace were behind against Leicester City, but there remain slight question marks over his game management when the Eagles are in front. The decision to send on James Tomkins for Edouard not only led to Palace dropping deep for the final ten minutes, but also stripped them of an outlet who had relieved pressure all night by carrying the ball up the pitch. There’s a parallel dimension where Vicente Guaita connects properly with his kick against Brighton, Palace deal with the second cross against Arsenal and they are ultimately four points better off. But the fact that last-minute equalisers have been conceded twice is something that Vieira will have to address going forward.
McArthur Makes Full Use Of His Nine Lives
There’s something cat-like in the way that James McArthur gets about the pitch, making a constant nuisance of himself and popping up in unexpected places. And it would probably be fair to say that he made full use of his nine lives on Monday night. Palace fans rightly left the Emirates feeling hard done by not to have seen their team pick up all three points, but we would do well to remember that McArthur could easily have been sent off in the first half. Even before he attempted to – accidentally, I’m going to say – volley Bukayo Saka into a different postcode, he had twice made challenges during Arsenal counters that could have easily led to yellow cards, which would have made Palace’s task incredibly difficult. Thankfully Mike Dean proved to be in a rare charitable mood and the Eagles were able to plot a route back into the game.
Time To Exchange Performances For Points
Despite the double dose of late heartbreak Palace have subjected us to in recent weeks, the positives continue to heavily outweigh the negatives after Vieira’s first eight games in charge. However, there is a nagging feeling that the Eagles should have more wins to their name despite having had one of the more difficult fixture schedules to start the season. The arrival of Newcastle United on Saturday comes with the added baggage of the away side’s controversial takeover, but if Palace are to really be comfortable this season then they are going to have to beat the sides below them at home, while also continuing to improve against the teams above them. This weekend’s game will show whether the Eagles are able to create chances against a side more likely to try to frustrate them, and will also be good preparation for a more favourable run of fixtures on the horizon. In any case, the time has come for Vieira’s side to convert its positive performances into points.