Result: Arsenal 0-0 Crystal Palace
Competition: Premier League
Date: 14 January 2020
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Luiz, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Ceballos, Saka, Smith Rowe, Aubameyang, Lacazette
Subs: Runarsson, Gabriel, Cedric, Chambers, Willock, Partey, Willian, Pepe, Nketiah
Arsenal failed to beat Crystal Palace for the fifth game in a row as Roy Hodgson’s men dug out a 0-0 draw at the Emirates.
Off the back of four consecutive wins, the Gunners were hoping to continue their recent momentum but struggled to create any chances of note on a night when the game broke down in the final third for both sides.
Kieran Tierney and Pablo Mari were notable absentees from the squad when the teams were announced. It was soon revealed that both were struggling with tight calf muscles following Saturday’s 120-minute marathon with Newcastle United. David Luiz and Ainsley Maitland-Niles came in alongside Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin to make a very right-footed defensive unit. After scoring off the bench on Saturday, Emile Smith Rowe was restored to the starting lineup in the number 10 position. The youngster had Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos backing him up in midfield while Bukayo Saka, Alex Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang started in attack. Gabriel and Thomas Partey both came back into the fold with places on the bench.
Arsenal had lots of the ball in the opening 10 minutes and seemed determined to move the ball quickly. For a short while, it looked promising as we worked openings on the flanks, but our delivery around the edge of the box lacked quality. Maitland-Niles who roamed the left flank was particularly profligate on the ball and the virus quickly spread to his teammates.
For the most part, Ceballos and Xhaka were tidy in possession but as Palace’s willing runners – Townsend, Eze and Zaha – grew in confidence, they found themselves constantly looking over their shoulder when Arsenal moves broke down. With channels to Smith Rowe and Lacazette cut off that started to happen a lot and the complexion of the game changed quickly.
Both sides resorted to shots from distance to try and break the stalemate. Townsend blazed over and Eze hit a free-kick into the terraces while Auba stung Guaita’s palms and Saka forced the Spaniard to get down low.
The game opened up as Palace became more adventurous but our frustrations in the final third continued. At one point Emile Smith Rowe found himself in a great position down the inside right channel only for Bellerin to steal the ball off Lacazette’s toes when the Frenchman was about to pull the trigger.
At the other end, our defence looked increasingly nervous. Xhaka produced a great block to deny Zaha who’d made inroads into the box thanks to a neat interchange with Benteke. The Belgian then fluffed two efforts in quick succession before a third – a header from a Mitchell cross – forced Leno into a fine save at full-stretch. In between, Tomkins had hit the bar with a header from an Eze free-kick.
As the whistle went for the break, Mikel Arteta had a stern look on his face.
The Gunners were quick out of the traps again. Auba flashed a dangerous ball towards Lacazette and when Guaita’s punch cleared the ball to Bellerin he was quick to try his luck. His shot whizzed just wide.
More dangerous crosses peppered the box from Saka and Luiz but Palace stood firm. Another 15 minutes of probing played out, but aside from a Maitland-Niles curler, shots on goal were few and far between. That proved to be the England international’s final meaningful moment, he was replaced by Pepe meaning Saka went to left-back.
The more we pushed forward, the more we looked susceptible to the counter-attack. A desperate sliding clearance by Xhaka stopped a Zaha ball reaching Benteke. From the resulting corner, McArthur nearly diverted a Benteke header past Leno. It was a let off.
A tiring Ceballos was replaced by Partey, on for his first appearance in six weeks, with 20 minutes remaining but the clock ticked down without much change in momentum. If anything Palace looked hungrier for the win. We resorted to hopeful long balls in Lacazette’s direction as they boxed us in. The Frenchman couldn’t do much with that type of service so Nketiah was sent on instead.
Arteta grew so frustrated on the touchline that at one point he tackled Townsend as the ball went out for a throw. The two exchanged angry glares. His mood wasn’t helped by the sight of Pepe lashing over in the closing stages. Deep into stoppage time, Saka played a teasing free-kick into the box but Palace escaped and immediately had us on the back foot. Bellerin conceded a corner which Luiz cleared.
It wasn’t the performance or the result we were hoping for, but it does stretch the unbeaten run to five games and we’ve gained another clean sheet. On a night of few positives, that’s at least something.