Palace's draw with Arsenal left plenty of positives to ponder. Here's Naveed Khan with his thoughts.
Luka Shows Real Character
It’s been a strange sort of season for captain Luka Milivojević; following a small break after the World Cup the perception has been that he has not been at his best on the pitch.
While tackles won, pass completion rate and interception statistics do not show any decline in performance from last season, the absence of Yohan Cabaye and Ruben Loftus-Cheek seemed to have had an impact on Luka, culminating in an uncharacteristic penalty miss against Everton.
Despite some extreme calls for him to be dropped that was never likely to happen and the reward was a strong performance in his role and also two calm yet decisive penalties.
His first 21 months at the club have had him to come in and be critical in survival under Sam Allardyce and lead the team to survival last season. His character and ability should never have been in doubt. Any lingering doubt can be put to bed.
Roy’s Active Reaction
Roy Hodgson’s lack of substitutions, use of new signings and loyalty to a narrow 4-4-2 have been the cause of much debate among the fan base with many wondering whether after more than 40 years as a manager he would show some flexibility.
The draw against Arsenal went some way to addressing some of that. The shape of the team was more fluid than the games before; a 4-4-2 to start was adapted to 4-3-3 and back again as the game changed.
The heat map at the end of the game showed Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend having an average position of wide forwards ahead of Jordan Ayew. Roy was also quicker to make changes, introducing Max Meyer for industrious yet ineffective James McArthur and Alexander Sørloth for Ayew.
This level of pragmatism gives hope that Roy isn’t so stuck in his ways to hold us back – while he was not proactive, his reaction to going a goal down was not delayed.
Kouyate Will be a Key Cog
Cheikhou Kouyaté has had to bide his time to get some regular starts in the Premier League at Palace but now that he is, it is easy to see him becoming an essential part of the set-up.
Whether as a central two or three, he provides both cover next to Luka and an option to the players further forward. In the former of those, he was key in allowing Luka to stay more central and freed of having to cover too much ground and Chiek’s height is also a focus on set pieces in both penalty areas.
It may be early days, but he looks to have the makings of the sort of player who allows the team to play around him and in typical Palace fashion, the type whose value will only truly be recognised when he is not in the team. Hopefully, that will not happen for a long time.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka produced another man-of-the-match performance on Sunday; making the most tackles, interceptions and take-ons. He’s becoming so good, it’ll be easy to take him for granted.
Jordan Ayew struggled to make an impact, again, and Sørloth came off the bench and did enough to wrestle the starting place for the Chelsea game and he should be joined by Meyer.
Jason Puncheon took the field in a Premier League game for the first time since injury and it was a real Palace moment to welcome one of our own back on the pitch.