After a horror show on the opening day, Arsenal had to come up with a big response at Selhurst Park. As what usually happens after a loss, there was mass hysteria after the Gunners’ loss to West Ham. Despite being picked as a title favourite in pre-season, people questioned their title credentials after the 2-0 defeat. After all that, the performance against Palace didn’t really matter, it was all about the three points. They responded not only by getting the three points, but also putting in a good performance.
With Alexis Sanchez not totally match sharp, the Gunners needed a big performance from their record signing, Mesut Ozil. The German delivered and put in a mesmerizing performance against the Eagles. He was easily the best player on the pitch and showed why Arsene Wenger paid £42.5m for him.
The German completed an incredible 98% of his passes. He completed 54 of his 55 attempted passes and completed 37 of 38 passes in the final third. He also created five chances over the course of the game. One of those chances was converted by Olivier Giroud for the games first goal.
The major tactical change for Arsenal from their opening day defeat was to switch Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla. Cazorla regained his place as the player sitting next to Coquelin, while Ramsey was placed wide right. While he started right, as Jamie Carragher pointed out on Monday Night Football, Ramsey only defended wide, going forward he was given more of a free role.
If you look at Ramsey’s heat map above, much of his defensive work is done down the right, but going forward he was popping up everywhere. His freedom allowed him to make lots of runs to stretch the defence, pull people out of position, and confuse people.
This freed up more room for the German playmaker to operate, but Ozil himself made a small change from his positioning in the last game. In this one he took up a slightly higher position. His average position was actually slightly higher up the pitch than Giroud. He also made a lot of runs beyond the defence, which allowed him to get in dangerous positions with the ball as well as open up space in the centre for his teammates to run into.
The flashpoint in the game was the first goal. After the Gunners had already created three or four good chances, they needed to score at least once from their early flurry. The goal started with diligent pressing by Arsenal. Damien Delaney headed a Petr Cech clearance down to Yohan Cabaye. The Frenchman was pressured by Francis Coquelin into playing a poor pass to Pape Soure, who was then pressured into playing a stray pass to the Gunners. They quickly worked the ball central to Santi Cazorla, who then played the ball to Alexis Sanchez. Yannick Bolasie was still up the pitch, so the left-back Joel Ward came to close the Chilean down. After the ball fortunately found it’s way to Ozil, the German was in the space vacated by the left-back, which meant he had the time to pick out a pass. He then played his cross in the exact position that he had to with the necessary pace for Olivier Giroud to sensationally redirect it in.
This game was vital for Arsenal. After their disasterious first result, they needed three points here. Selhurst Park is a very difficult place to go, but the Arsenal players, specifically Mesut Ozil, stepped up and put in a quality away performance.