Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal Preview: Gunners Midfield to Down Eagles

Damian Buxton@@Damian_BuxtonFeatured ColumnistOctober 25, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 19:  Mesut Oezil of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at the Emirates Stadium on October 19, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Whether he’s watching the game from his sofa or catching up on some Saturday afternoon shopping, Ian Holloway may just feel that he’s gotten out of Crystal Palace at the right time when they take on Arsenal tomorrow.

Still reeling from a 4-1 home defeat to Fulham, with seven defeats from eight games and now without a manager, Palace fans may not be looking forward to facing the form side of the Premier League.   

On paper, the game is a complete mismatch. The Ozil/Cazorla combination combined to good effect for Arsenal against Dortmund in midweek, and the midfield options at Arsene Wenger’s disposal should prove too strong for an Eagles side that have yet to keep a clean sheet this season.


Cazorla and Ozil Partnership Looking Good for Arsenal

Since the initial furore over the signing of Mesut Ozil eventually settled down, Arsenal fans have shifted their excitement to the prospect of Ozil lining up alongside Santi Cazorla. Injury to Cazorla prevented the pair featuring together until last weekend’s game with Norwich City, but they appear to have wasted no time in striking up an understanding.

Cazorla featured as a second-half substitute for the Gunners in their midweek game against Dortmund, a move that helped Ozil to perform on what had previously been a sluggish night for the German.  

Cazorla’s pass map from that night can be seen above, and it shows how he immediately attempted to dictate play from central areas. He completed more passes in his 30-minute appearance than Wilshere did in an hour, and his presence in the centre of the pitch allowed Ozil to drift away from central areas.

Ozil Passes 60-90mins
Ozil Passes 60-90mins

This made the German more dangerous. He had produced one key pass in the hour preceding Cazorla’s introduction, but set up three chances for teammates in the half hour that the Spaniard was on the pitch. These are shown above and include two chances created for Cazorla—an ominous sign for Palace this weekend.


Key Battle: Mile Jedinak vs. Mesut Ozil

If Palace are to get something from tomorrow’s game, then they will need their captain, Mile Jedinak, to be on top form. The Australian has been their top performer this season, with a Squawka performance score of 263, and has won the most duelstackles, headers and take-onsin the league. Under the cosh in most games that they have played Palace have defended very deep, and Jedinak is a key part of that.

Crystal Palace Tackles v Liverpool
Crystal Palace Tackles v Liverpool

The Eagles have made the fewest tackles in the opposition half of any team in the top flight but, conversely, have made the most tackles in their own half of any team. Their tackle map above, from their recent game at Anfield, shows the extent to which they sit deep in their own half.

Jedinak Heat Map v Fulham
Jedinak Heat Map v Fulham

This is a dangerous game to play in the Premier league, particularly against Arsenal. Jedinak is often the deepest midfielder, shown by his heat map against Fulham (above) and will be key to Saturday’s game.

Twenty four percent of the tackles made by Palace this season have been made by Jedinak, and if he is to stop Mesut Ozila player who has created more chances this season than the combined totals of Palace trio Puncheon, Chamakh and Gaylethen he will need to produce a heroic defensive effort.

Jedinak’s deep-lying role can provide Palace fans with some cause for optimism, as he also helps them going forward.

Crystal Palace Chances Created 2013/14 by Area
Crystal Palace Chances Created 2013/14 by Area

The graph above shows the positions on the pitch that Palace have created their chances from this season. Noticeable is the number of chances created from deep areas. The South London side get the ball from back to front very quickly, and Jedinak is a key part of this. From the two sides' squads only Aaron Ramsey has attempted more passes than Jedinak, who has also provided six chances for teammates.

However, while he has attempted more passes, he only has a completion percentage of 75. Distinctly average by most teams' standards, this is actually above the team average. Palace have only completed 74 percent of their passes this season, and only one player in their squad, the ostracised Owen Garvan, has a pass average above the Arsenal squad average.


Chamahk vs. Giroud

Marouane Chamakh lines up against his old team for the first time, and will be looking at another former Ligue 1 striker and thinking what might have been. Following 13 goals in a solid first season at Arsenal, Chamakh fell victim to Robin van Persie’s incredible run of form and found himself out of the team in his second season.

Olivier Giroud, on the other hand, has built on his first season at the club with more goals and improved buildup play. Of forwards playing central roles in European leagues, only Francesco Totti has created more chances than the 14 that Giroud has.

However, in a stat that may shock Arsenal fans, both Chamakh and Giroud have been responsible for creating 15 percent of their team’s chances. If we are to split hairs, then Giroud has provided 14.89 percent of Arsenal’s chances and Chamakh 14.81 percent of Palace's, but Chamakh’s relative success in a poor team should provide food for thought for any Arsenal fans casting a worried glance to a Nicklas Bendtner-occupied bench.


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