Opinion: Why Arsenal lost to Crystal Palace at the Emirates
Arsenal is one of the four teams in the EPL racing for next year rights to play Champions League football. In fact, they would actually have been leading the charge had they won their latest match. Therefore, when Arsenal took to the field against Crystal Palace at their home ground venue of Emirates Stadium, everything was looking up for them, and not many people would have predicted an outcome that would end up with Arsenal conceding 3 goals and scoring 2.
First, this was a home game, and this season, Arsenal turned their ground into a fortress. Until the loss to Crystal Palace, Arsenal had only three home losses all season long. They lost their first match this season to Manchester City, FA Cup fourth round to Manchester United and the EFL Cup quarter-finals to Tottenham Hotspurs. In addition, they have only drawn three times at home.
Their form seemed to have picked up lately. In their last seven matches (in all competitions), Arsenal had won 6 through clean sheets and lost once to Everton away. The last two matches they played before facing Crytal Palace at home seemed to strengthen their chances.
Despite a labored win at the Vicarage Road against Watford, they surprised everyone by beating Napoli at the San Paolo stadium in Naples. Notably, they had just advanced in the Europa League semifinals for the second time in as many years.
How then did Arsenal end up losing when there was so much motivation to go in third ahead of Tottenham Hotspurs and Manchester United who both lost their matches playing the day before?
It seems injuries for Arsenal do come in pairs at the same department of their squad. Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding are two major players missing in defending department.
They also went into this match missing two key midfielders in Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka, both of whom suffered a knock in the Europa League game against Napoli.
This meant that Arsenal's reliable midfield had to make do with the likes of Matteo Guendouzi and Mohamed Elneny.
Emery chose to pick Elneny and Guendouzi to start in the midfield. Carl Jenkinson was picked to start ahead of Ainsley Maitland-Niles on the right wingback role and Konstantinos Mavropanos picked to start on the left back role ahead of Nacho Monreal.
The team was quite different from the usual teams Emery has been fielding. On realization that his newly crafted members in the defense were not bringing the impact he hoped for, the manager ended up removing them to bring back Ainsley Maitland-Niles for Jenkinson, Lucas Torreira for Elneny and Alex Iwobi for Mavropanos.
The damage had already been done.
Emery allowed the midfield duo of Guendouzi and Elneny that were bossed by Everton just a week ago to face the wrath of fire and they came short again. He had Torreira in the bench and only brought him as a substitute.
With a three-man back of Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny, and Papastathopoulos Sokratis, Mustafi would have been on the bench. But as it happened, Sokratis was out suspended and Mustafi was picked to play.
There were ways that Emery would have overlooked Mustafi just like he did so much to overlook Mesut Ozil in many instances earlier in the season. One was to have Koscienly play in the right back, Mavropanos in the centre and Nacho Monreal on the left.
Another was to have Carl Jenkinson play in the back left with Maitland-Niles playing in the wingback and bench Mustafi. No one knows how these permutations would have panned out against Crytal Palace. but Mustafi is to blame for the second goal which may have killed the determination of his teammates to take the lead in the match.
That goal changed the tempo of the game and put the advantage to the visiting side.
#4 Management failings
Unai Emery has a flaw that may be his undoing in chasing for top four. He suffers from poor balancing of the team he selects for games. Hopefully, now he knows his players better and should go on to win the last four matches in the EPL and ensure Arsenal end up top four and have a chance to challenge for the Europa title.