This London derby has a lot riding on it. Crystal Palace are a talented team but they haven’t turned that into points at nearly a high enough pace and sit in 16th place, just a pair of points above the relegation zone. Arsenal are on an eleven match win streak (seven in the league) that has propelled them into the top four and just a pair of points off the top of the table.
Crystal Palace midfield issues
One of the biggest issues for Crystal Palace is that they lost two very important pieces of their midfield in Yohan Cabaye and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Cabaye is now in the UAE but last season he was the second best midfielder in the Twelve rankings overall and the best in what he added through attack. Loftus-Cheek is back at Chelsea (but has played just 33 minutes) while last year he was the third best midfielder and second best midfielder in their attacking rankings.
This season Luka Milivojevic and James McArthur have been tasked with leading the midfield. They haven’t been horrible, ranking among the top half of Crystal Palace players but in the overall rankings among other midfielder in the Premier League they are well down the list (16th and 17th respectively), especially on a points per minute basis where they fall to 35th and 34th.
This drop in an attacking platform has significantly hurt their attacking numbers, the xG per match has dropped from just over 1.5 xG per match last season to just over one per match this season.
Roy Hodgson still has them working hard defensively and they are putting up respectable defensive numbers but with their attack losing a half a goal a match they have slipped from a positive xG differential into negative territory.
Arsenal’s performances are starting to match the results
Arsenal are on an eleven match winning streak, but for the early part of that streak Arsenal depended on hot finishing and some luck to get results out of matches where they were not the best team on the day. That has started to turn around now during their last three matches against Fulham, Leicester City and Sporting in the Europa League.
During the five previous league matches they scored 11 goals from 7.2 xG and allowed just five from 9.7 xG. Over the last three matches (including the Europa League match) they have scored nine from 6.1 xG and allowed two from 2.9. They are still on the positive side for both scoring and allowing goals but at least they have moved from a negative differential to a positive one.
One of the biggest factors in this turn around is the integration of Lucas Torreira into the team in midfield. Here is the Arsenal leader board during their winning run:
Torreira ranks seventh, but I’d argue that his presence is even larger than what has been captured in his numbers alone. He has partnered Granit Xhaka in a double pivot and with Torreira next to him Xhaka has the freedom to maximize his game with the benefit of knowing that he finally has a true defensive midfielder next to him to provide cover.
I think that looking at player radars is a great way to get an idea of visually representing what a player does in their role. Here are Torreira and Xhaka on the Deep Midfielder template:
Looking at the two players they do an excellent job complementing each other for what you’d want from a double pivot and it has made Arsenal look a lot better as they have started to grasp Unai Emery’s system.
Arsenal are favorites to get their 12th win in a row and to complete #Project24 before they face a much harder run of matches starting with Liverpool. It will be interesting if Crystal Palace are able to create enough chances against a relatively weak back line of Arsenal (especially considering that they are very thin at left back, so thin that they resorted to right back Stephan Lichtsteiner and midfielder Granit Xhaka at the spot the last two matches) while keeping their potent attack out of the back of the net.
I predict another 3-1 win for Arsenal in this match.