Three horrendous defensive miscues, three Crystal Palace goals against, three critical points dropped. A win today would have had Arsenal sitting pretty in the top four chase, instead the Gunners put in a tepid performance and got what they (probably) deserved.
The loss throws into harsh relief the reality that Arsenal are not a deep side and that many of the players down the bench don’t belong at a club with Arsenal’s aspirations. Shkodran Mustafi was dreadful, again. On Palace’s second goal, he stopped running and allowed Wilfried Zaha to glide past him in on goal. He appeared to be expecting Bernd Leno to come for the ball, but regardless, you cannot just stop moving like he did. On Palace’s third goal, he left James McArthur, his mark and eventual goal-scorer, wide open at the back post to sorta-kinda-not-really challenge for and lose the first ball.
Carl Jenkinson was also poor today. To be fair, he was started behind the eight ball by Unai Emery. Jenkinson is not suited to a wingback role because he is far too limited on the ball. That limitation, however, does not excuse him losing the line on a free kick, holding Christian Benteke onside, and allowing him a free header for Palace’s first goal.
Dinos Mavropanos, for the second game running, looked overmatched and was substituted early. While he doesn’t fall into the “not matching Arsenal’s aspirations” category because of his age, he desperately needs a loan move to get regular playing time. His positioning and decision-making are not where they need to be.
Mohamed Elneny played better today than he has in recent outings, but that is a pretty low bar to clear. Like Jenkinson, he is far too limited in his passing / what he can do on the ball to fit into Unai Emery’s pass out of the back tactics. Elneny’s limitations were exacerbated today because his midfield partner, Matteo Guendouzi, had one of his worst matches of the season. The young Frenchman was indecisive on the ball and often got caught in possession. He also appeared far too concerned with the referee and the Palace players.
It’s never a good sign when the manager has to make a double change at halftime to fix the formation and breathe some life into the side. To Unai Emery’s credit, bringing on Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Alex Iwobi was a good move, but why not start them to begin with? Even if they don’t have a full ninety minute performance in them, it’s better to use whatever they do have to get onto the front foot rather than to chase the game.
Beyond that, it’s tough for me to criticize the team selection and tactics today. The side needed rotation. It was the club’s third game in seven days, fourth in eleven, and with Aaron Ramsey hurt, Granit Xhaka only recently returned to fitness, and Sokratis suspended, there weren’t many options available. Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Alexandre Lacazette are more than enough quality on the pitch to beat Crystal Palace at home, provided the guys next to them aren’t completely clueless.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what those other guys were today.