Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace: 6 Things We Learned

Willie GannonSenior Writer IFebruary 2, 2014

Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace: 6 Things We Learned

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Arsenal moved back above Manchester City to the top of the Premier League with great thanks to an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain double over Crystal Palace. The hard-earned 2-0 win over the visiting Eagles was the sixth time the Gunners have won by that scoreline at the Emirates this season.

    Palace, managed by Tony Pulis, came to frustrate Arsenal, and frustrate they did. In an uneventful first half, the Gunners only managed a handful of attempts on the Palace goal, ably manned by Julian Speroni. 

    The visitors' team-sheet seemed to suggest a conventional 4-4-2 formation. However, they lined up in a system more in line with a 4-4-1-0-1, as their five midfielders stayed deep with defending obviously on their mind.

    Their cause was helped by Arsene Wenger choosing a lopsided midfield that featured three players more comfortable on the left side of the pitch. Lukas Podolski was deployed on the left with Mesut Ozil in the centre, and Santi Cazorla lined out on the right.

    Podolski's game was instantly negated by the fact that he had no space to run into, as the impressive Joel Ward stayed deep and marked him out of the game. Ozil was a peripheral figure in the centre, and Cazorla looked a forlorn and frustrated figure on the right.

    On the one occasion the Spaniard did stray into the center, he produced a magical pass, which Oxlade-Chamberlain tucked away for the first goal of the game.

    If Wenger thought the idea of going behind would force the Eagles to come out, he was sorely wrong.

    Palace continued to defend and attack on the break, and if it were not for Wojciech Szczesny, they would have equalized. 

    As the game wore on, Palace began to fade, and Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud combined brilliantly for the English international to fire home his second of the match as he made the game safe.

    The win came courtesy of two well-taken goals from the Ox, but this was hardly an inspired Arsenal performance. It did, however, move them back to the summit of the Premier League.

    Here, Bleacher Report offers six things we learned from Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace...

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain Has a Huge Future

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    Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has a huge future ahead of him. The 20-year-old Arsenal star is possibly the most mature youngster England has produced since the great Bobby Charlton made his debut, as a 19-year-old, for Manchester United in 1956.

    Like Charlton before him, Oxlade-Chamberlain began his football career out on the wings. And also like Charlton, the Arsenal youngster will eventually move inside to where he will become the very heartbeat of whatever team he plays in.

    His double against Crystal Palace was a brilliant achievement, considering he has missed almost the entire season through injury. His last start came in the opening-day defeat to Aston Villa

    He was competent in possession and helped control midfield, albeit against an opponent that conceded the central battle ground from the start. However, you can only beat what is put in front of you, and Oxlade-Chamberlain showed great character when other Arsenal players were wilting.

    In March 2012, Arsene Wenger told Arsenal.com that Oxlade-Chamberlain's future was in center midfield. At the time, he admitted that the youth was not ready to take on the role. He went further by stating that the then 18-year-old would have to serve his time playing for the team before eventually moving inside.

    The high praise came after the youngster impressed the world's media with a stunning performance in center midfield against AC Milan in the Champions League.

    He will play [in center midfield] again, but I think he has to play where he is needed basically. The most important thing at the moment is that he develops well. 

    But he will certainly develop into it [a center midfielder] in the future.

    If Wenger can resist the urge to keep the Ox in the team and gradually reintroduce him, so as to avoid injury, he will be a star.

Crystal Palace Made a Shrewd Move in Hiring Tony Pulis

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    Tony Pulis has been a magnificent appointment for Crystal Palace. 

    Under Ian Holloway, the Eagles had lost eight of their first nine games and were odds on to be relegated back to the Championship. Pulis was handed the impossible task of keeping Palace in the Premier League at the end of November. 

    Since then, the Eagles have won seven from 14 and have kept a highly impressive seven clean sheets. 

    Speaking before the game, ex-Arsenal legend Martin Keown, commentating for BBC 5Live, said:

    Tony Pulis has done brilliantly at Crystal Palace, and has bought well in the January transfer window. Palace now have five clean sheets from 11 matches - quite a turnaround for that team. So they have bought players to improve the attacking side of their game.

    Palace were hardly the most adventurous against Arsenal. But why should they be when the budget Arsene Wenger has available must be 10 times more than Palace's?

    The Eagles look like they will stay in the Premier League under Pulis, and they will cause problems for many a team.

    In the future, we might even hear someone ask, "Would Barcelona fancy a game against Crystal Palace on a cold Tuesday night?"

Arsene Wenger Should Have Played Santi Cazorla in the Centre

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    What do you do with the Premier League's best player over the last month? Should you play him in his natural position, where he has proven dynamic, creative and dangerous? Or do you play him in his most unnatural position so you can fit others into the team?

    Sadly for Santi Cazorla, Arsene Wenger chose to play the predominantly left-footed wonder on the right side of midfield.

    The 5' 6" Spanish international has been phenomenal since the turn of the year and has scored five goals in his last five games.

    Last year he was mainly used in the centre by Wenger, but with the addition of Mesut Ozil, Cazorla has been pushed out to the left. He has had to contend with injury and playing in a new position. It has taken him some time to adjust, but now he is hitting his best form since last season.

    Somehow, Arsene Wenger chose to deploy Cazorla on the right against Crystal Palace. Lukas Podolski was drafted in on the left, and the misfiring Ozil continued in the centre

    This trio of left-footed players combined to completely unbalance Arsenal's midfield as the naturally right-sided Serge Gnabry looked on from the bench. 

    Protecting Gnabry makes sense on some level, as he is the only natural right-winger he has left, now that Theo Walcott is out for the rest of the season. 

    If anything, Wenger should have moved Ozil out to the right.

    The German international has done very little for the Gunners over the last two months to merit keeping the central position over an in-form player like Cazorla. He has also used on the right by Germany and Real Madrid in recent years.

    Cazorla? He has not played on the right once this season before today and rarely plays there at all. His rhythm was upset by Wenger's strange decision to play him out of position.

    The one time he moved into the centre, he created a goal...

Dogged Crystal Palace Proved Difficult for Arsenal to Break Down

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    According to Newstalk, Crystal Palace's first deliberate pass, rather than a long or direct ball forward, came in the 22nd minute.

    Palace were set up to defend, and defend they did. Tony Pulis likes playing with a defensive philosophy with two wide midfielders who counter-attack in support of a lone centre-forward. He also likes his four-man defense to stay as a whole. 

    The Eagles reduced Arsenal to one real effort on goal. Julian Speroni, to his credit, dealt with it superbly. The same kudos can be given to Wojciech Szczesny, who made a number of important saves. Considering he was not involved in the game he displayed extremely high levels of concentration.

    When Arsenal scored through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, other managers would have thrown their tactics out the window and try for an equalizer, not Tony Pulis.

    Pulis made subtle changes, but his team retained their defensive mindset and never over-committed. That is why they are never taken apart.

    The simple truth, however, is that Palace lack the quality to really open teams up. On the rare occasions they did cut through the Gunners, they were denied by Szczesny. 

    In the winter transfer window, they signed Joe Ledley from Celtic and Tom Ince from Blackpool. Both will add goals, and if Palace can turn the odd draw into a win and the odd 1-0 down into a draw they will become a Premier League mainstay.

Is It Time to Question Arsene Wenger's Training Methods?

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    According to PhysioRoom.com, Arsenal have six players out injured at this moment. Arsene Wenger's team has consistently led this table since the start of the season, and there will come a time when his training methods will be questioned.

    With the Gunners leading the table, however, that time is not now. Raymond Verheijen is one of the world's foremost football coaches and fitness experts. In 2010, he criticized Arsenal's training methods to Goal.com, and in 2011 he repeated his mantra to the Daily Mirror.

    This season, Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool and David Moyes at Manchester United have come in for some heavy criticism on his Twitter account. Arsenal have been relatively untouched this term, but only because he feels he has said everything about them already. 

    The fact that Aaron Ramsey is out until March 1 at the very least, that Jack Wilshere has picked up another knock in quick succession and that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been parachuted into central midfield says a lot about Arsenal's injury problem.

    Is Wenger pushing his players too much? Are they being rushed back as the Gunners try to win their first title in a decade? 

    These are viable questions, and they need to be answered.

Arsenal Should Have Signed a Striker

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    Riccardo De Luca/Associated Press

    Why Arsene Wenger and Arsenal did not sign a striker in the January transfer window will go down as one of the great mysteries of the 2013-14 Premier League season.

    The only real striker on Arsenal's books is Olivier Giroud. Considering that the club were trying to replace him during the summer, bringing in nobody in January beggars belief.

    Giroud had a less-than-adequate first season at Arsenal. That prompted Wenger to look to bring in a top-class forward last summer. According to a vast number of sources, the Daily Star being one of them, Arsenal were linked with a whole host of strikers with big-money moves for players like Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain.

    The Gunners failed to bring in the striker their fans craved, and Giroud began the season in pole position. To his credit, he has been outstanding to date. He is arguably Arsenal's most important player in this title-chasing season. Wenger's tactics begin and end with him.

    His 10 goals and six assists in 22 games show that he is one of the most dangerous players around.

    He has played every minute when available, and as the season turns toward the homestretch, he is starting to look tiredvery, very tired. It takes considerable strength and energy to play in the same fashion as Giroud. As teams come to terms with how to mark him and as his stamina drops, his contribution will lessen.

    Against Crystal Palace, he looked a peripheral figure in front of Arsenal's unbalanced midfield. True to form, he did contribute another assist.

    Lukas Podolski is not a striker in the conventional sense, nor is Theo Walcott, when fit.

    The only other forward Wenger has available is Nicklas Bendtner. The big Dane is simply not good enough for Arsenal. His miserable return of 24 Premier League goals for the Gunners since 2005 speaks volumes.

    Why Arsene Wenger and Arsenal did not sign a striker in the January transfer window will go down as one of the great mysteries of the 2013-14 Premier League season.

     

    All statistics courtesy of Squawka, Premier League and Soccerbase unless otherwise stated.