Mikel Arteta’s Gameplan
Including centre-backs, three of the four left-sided players against Palace were right footed. David Luiz joined Maitland-Niles and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on that flank and the lack of balance was stark.
Needing to reset the usual left-sided attacking bias for Thursday, it became evident early on that the plan was to play diagonal switches as quickly as possible from right to left. Eberechi Eze and Wilfried Zaha were always going to try and isolate Hector Bellerin – a ploy that was invited – who had Ceballos within short passing range.
Making the move infield to Ceballos, or maybe Xhaka, Maitland-Niles was asked to provide the first option and Aubameyang the second. Give Aubameyang the space to attack and he will score goals. Sadly, Crystal Palace sussed this out quite early on, and there could have been more scope for danger if the makeshift left-back had been steadier on the ball.
In attempting this, Arteta sought to use his player absences to his advantage. In theory it was a wise approach, yet on the day an overall lack of quality throughout the forward line saw moves break down, while not enough pace centrally let Palace get back into shape.
Ultimately Arteta’s plan didn’t work. He attempted to turn weakness on its head without luck. However, the structure defensively was solid enough to avoid defeat against a side who are normally an ill-placed banana skin.