A disastrous first half, limited finishing and injuries consigned this game to the dustbin that is filled with prior encounters from previous years with Palace, Brighton and Watford. Fundamentally, that first half was one of the worst halves of football we’ve seen in a long time.
As impressive as Palace were, we were, in that first half, plain old appalling. Too many players were off their game. Too many passes were wayward. Too many players made too many bad decisions. And we lost Partey to an injury. He could be gone for a month. Or for the season. And we can’t handle that. Anyone who is foolish enough to read this blog, will now that I’ve always been worried about losing a few key important players. And, Partey is one of the key ones.
Not having Tierney was clearly destabilizing. This was yet another miserable appearance by Tavares. I know he’s a youngster but he was so off the pace. Nearly everything poor about us ran through him. His marking was at fault for their first goal and his positioning for the second. Leading into that free-kick for their first goal we had two chances to get rid of the ball . First Gabriel, under minimal pressure, headed to a Palace player. It came back to White who then also proceeded to head it to another Palace player. Before fouling Zaha. You can’t fault us for being accommodating guests. And then from the free-kick, rather than head the ball away Tavares ducked and let Anderson head it back across the goal.
Then for the second as Xhaka ran upfield, we made Palace look like Barcelona with a defensive splitting pass. But, that was only possible because Tavares dropped so deep to break our back line. That left Gabriel unsure on his position and unable to intercept the pass.
The only solution was to finally replace Tavares with Xhaka – which is not what you want to do when Zaha is on the pitch. I was amazed that Xhaka did not find a way to get sent off. Once Tavares was removed, a little more of our shape and balance returned. Of course, by then Palace went into game management mode. Unlike in the first half, we actually had some real chances in the second half. Smith-Rowe should have done better and Odegaard completely whiffed another one. Eddie hit the bar and then Cigarette should have had a penalty. Arguably Zaha got an equivalent foul but he managed to get a penalty. Today, nothing went our way.
Partey was off the pace for most of the game. His injury is worrying. And in the first half he could barely pass the ball to his own players. For the entire game Cigarette was anonymous. He was also unable to make a good pass or make any contribution. Saka looked like he still had COVID19 (and COVID 20 and COVID 21 and COVID 22). Odegaard was quiet throughout.
But it all started with Tavares. He was shocking. And he unnerved Gabriel. The left side of our defense was so vulnerable. Smith Rowe hardly got the ball in that first half. But as a team we could barely string two passes together. They pressed us more and worked harder. We took too long on the ball and were unable to find any passes.
Funnily enough – in a completely non funny way – it was Cedric that had the toughest job marking Zaha,.. But he was the one who fought the most. Who was the most physical and refused to be bullied by Zaha or anyone. If only others demonstrated the same fight.
But once you pull Tierney out of the team and have an underperforming/unfit Partey, then you’re in trouble. Today was a throwback performance. It was reminiscent of the early Arteta days. As much as things brighten-up in the second half, we were still way off the pace. We could have played for another 90 minutes and I bet we’d still not have scored.
That first 45 minutes though was enough to make you wish for yet another international break. What a contrast to how we came back from the last international break. We were so listless and passive. There was no energy or shape to our game. We did not seem prepared to engage and play them. Maybe it’s just inexperience – though with Xhaka, Gigarette and Partey out there, there were voices that should have helped us.
Let’s hope Tierney is back. We can’t let Tavares play again this season. Listen, I’ve said this many times as well. I had no expectation of finishing 4th this season. Obviously though when you’re sitting in 4th at this stage of the season your expectations change. But this is a young team. And, of course, we have the wankers down the road singing and dancing because they could now claim fourth – which for them really would be a trophy. So, it’s undeniably aggravating and frustrating when we lose three points and put in a performance like this. But without squad depth we at risk to these injuries. If you count up the points that Tavares has cost us (including the F A Cup tie) then it’s clear it’s time for us to wrap Tierney in cotton wool and also to provide him with 24 hour medical care and attention. For me, the lack of one player undermined the entire confidence of our team today. We lost that game in the first half. It was not all of Tavares fault. No, just about 85% of it.
I don’t really understand why I’m not more upset after a game like that. We were pretty spineless and lacking in leadership and aggression. It was in such contrast to our prior 8 games or so. Even with the rationalization ( Tavares, injuries etc) it’s still hard to fathom. At least we did not lose at Burnley .
Maybe more worrying that picking on Tavares – as much fun as that it – is the lack of goals from our center forward. Our original false 9. At some point we’re going to have to make a change. I’m not interested in the revisionism regarding Aubameyang. He really did have to go. I don’t care how well he’s planning in Barca, that was never going to happen here. You can’t blame Arteta for that. His lack of goals preceded that particularly schism. But now it looks like we’re just a little bit fucked because neither Cigarette or Eddie can score. As good as Palace were today they really only had three chances (yes, I know, without those goals they would have kept pressing us) but, aside from their penalty and the lack of ours, we had chances to score today. And we did not take them. In those crucial moments the game turned. If ESR had scored on his chance then the momentum would have shifted. Because by then we’d got our act back together.
I think we need the EPL to change their substitution rule. We need to be able to substitute referees next. We should be able to remove Ref Tierney and replace him with his namesake. Even with a knee injury Tesco Tierney could have done a better job. Not that that would have saved us today. But it would have made it more palatable.
So, we had to wait 16 days to watch this shit. I can’t imagine – or refuse to imagine – we can be this bad next time out. But we will need Partey, a fit and healthy Saka, Tierney to return and Tavares to be on his summer vacation for as long as possible.
It was nice to see Ramsdale back. Our resident Nazi can’t be too happy about that. He did little wrong at Villa. And Aaron was a little shaky with his passing and ball control today. But there was little any goalkeeper could have done today to help us.
Again, it’s the injuries that worry me the most. All teams will lose games. All team will play like shit at some point. We managed both of these today. And we needed luck. Not just with injuries. Not just with referees making the right calls. But we needed luck on the ricochets and second balls. Today none when our way. It will hurt our confidence – not just the supporters but the players – but that is part of the test, part of any normal season. How we react will be interesting.
Arteta made the right substitutions todays. Yanking Tavares – though I had hoped 30 minutes would have been enough (if not 5 minutes). Moving Xhaka to left-back and then moving to a back three. He played to try and recover but it was too much of a challenge because we just could not get the rub of the green. We needed one of those attempts to go it. Though it should be noted that their goalie hardly had a save to make.
This was just a thoroughly miserable game for us. But I refuse to go all doom-and-gloom. I’ve seen us collapse like this with a much weaker team. We are still in a good position. I would have taken this position if offered it prior to the season. Our problem is that our failure opens it up for those pompous upstarts who are incapable of winning any trophy. And that makes it much harder to accept. If only Man United weren’t such a pile of pooh. They had every reasonable chance – given the quality of their players, size of the payroll and the amount of money spent – to snatch 4th. I could live with that. But not the wankers from up the street. That’s what makes this so galling. They have a mature, older team with experience and a son-of-DarthVader as manager. But we should just focus on ourselves. Because that’s all we can control. And we know we have the right elements and we know where we are lacking. It’s just a case of whether Arteta can piece them back together. Because we have no margin for error now.
My hopes had been on Chelski imploding and gifting us 3rd spot. I would still not rule it out. Who would want to stay with that team of mercenaries with so much uncertainty. Maybe we are now both in a race for 5th place. If their oligarch was still there and not trying to solve (belatedly) world peace and avoid being poisoned, he would already have changed their manager and caused yet more chaos.
There will be a lot of teeth gnashing after today. We can expect to see the usual “supporters” go into melt down. So please ignore those wankers. They rarely have perspective and a rationale thought. Instead, we should focus our prayers on the healing of Partey and Tierney. We should get out our ouji boards and our lucky charms. Dust off those buddahs statues. Or whoever you pray to, or, if you have a direct line to the man (or women or non-binary blah blah) person who controls this mysterious universe (and the league tables and the fixture list) and ask ever so nicely and respectively if we could have these two fit for our next game. I don’t want to invoke any last supper here or parting to any seas, but we need just a little sprinkling of intervention to help us now. I would, but I’m already too busy and, anyway, I think I could do with some additional help now.