Experience trumps youngsters

Important match. Arsenal could have gone into the top half of the table and continued the winning run. And Palace could have gone above Arsenal with a win.

But where was the spark from Arsenal?

Out with a muscle strain.

The last games between these sides have been significant. Had Arsenal won at home two seasons ago, securing Champions League football, then Energy may well have still been at Arsenal. And last season it was the shirt-throwing nadir for Xhaka.

It was youth v experience. The youngest versus the oldest manager in the Premier League.

People have a deceptive view of Crystal Palace. They have good, experienced defenders and midfielders (they crowded out Smith Rowe here), and can be very effective on the counter, having beating several ‘top six’ sides in recent seasons.

Luiz and Maitland Niles came in. Tierney, Arsenal’s most potent attacking force, was ominously out a muscle strain and Mari was injured. Partey and Gabriel were on the bench.

Palace were unbeaten in last four against Arsenal.

The home team started OK. Smith Rowe took it on the right but sent a soft shot into Guaita’s arms.

And a neat move between Smith Rowe and Maitland Niles saw an overhit cross from the left.

Some slack passes from Maitland Niles and Aubameyang meant good approach play came to nought.

Eze the ex-Arsenal schoolboy fired a free kick over the bar, following Xhaka’s slight tug back on Zaha.

Aubameyang cut in from the left and shot hard – Guaita punched it high and grabbed the rebound.

Saka drove into the middle, worked a little space but shot straight at Guaita.

Xhaka tackled Zaha in the area – a foretaste of the battle between these two throughout the match.

Smith Rowe set up Bellerin for a cross but Aubameyang headed parallel to Guaita who saved easily.

Palace were threatening with Benteke and Zaha taking the ball in advanced positions.

But Saka sent in some dangerous set piece crosses.

Tomkins hit the bar from a floated Eze free kick, given away by Xhaka on Zaha.

Benteke headed for the far corner from a Mitchell cross – but Leno leaped to his left to push it out, collecting the resultant cross back in.

Arsenal came out for the second half firing, with Bellerin shooting wide and Holding heading wide from a corner.

Maitland Niles weaved his way through three Palace players but shot straight at Guaita. It was his last touch. Pepe came on for him on the hour.

Arsenal’s approach play was good but the final ball in the area or shot was lacking.

Xhaka performed well in a defensive role, better than in an offensive one, illustrated by him cutting out a dangerous ball from Zaha.

Partey came on for Ceballos on 69 minutes.

Holding mis-timed his jump from a corner and should have scored.

Lacazette came off for Nketiah on 80, but the team was lacking in energy and the game fizzled out into a 0-0.

Eze said: “It was a good performance, played well and we worked hard.

Bellerin said: “Crystal Palace defended well with loads of players in defence. The spark and creativity was missing today. I can’t fault the team for the effort. We didn’t have the luck we needed.

“To play against teams with a lot of players in defence is hard – there is no space. If you score a goal, there’s more space.

“We got a clean sheet – we are improving. At the end the whole team was running back on a counter-attack.”

“Sometimes different teams pose different challenges – they were aggressive and tactically compact.”

Roy Hodgson said: “I’m more than satisfied. We were good defending and created good opportunities in the first half and in the second we wasted some final passes. It was a good defensive performance.”

Mikel Arteta said: “We needed some freshness and quality in final third. It was a game without big chances –we  lacked the last part.

“In a few moments we were fatigued and gave the ball away to Palace.

Asked about missing Tierney, he said: “He is a real threat –an important player.”

“Palace have beaten a lot of big teams in recent years. The execution wasn’t there today.”

Arsenal: 1Leno, 2Bellerín, 16Holding, 23David Luiz (Booked at 67mins), 15Maitland-Niles (Substituted for Pépé at 65’mins), 8Ceballos (Substituted for Partey at 69’min), 34Xhaka, 7Saka, 32Smith Rowe, 14Aubameyang,  9Lacazette (Substituted for Nketiah at 81’min)

Crystal Palace: 31Guaita,  2Ward,  5Tomkins (Booked at 42mins),  8Kouyaté,  27Mitchell,  10Townsend, 18McArthur,  4Milivojevic (Substituted for McCarthy at 89’min), 25Eze,  20Benteke (Substituted for J Ayew at 81’min), 11Zaha