Mikel Arteta did not make any excuses for Arsenal’s chastening 3-0 away defeat to Crystal Palace. The Gunners’ boss was more than wise to not conjure an explanation that suggested anything but the fact Patrick Vieira’s side dominated the north Londoners in every area possible.
The Eagles played through the Gunners’ press, lured the north Londoners into pressing traps of their own, and brutally dispatched of Arteta’s side before half-time. Arsenal’s excellent form in the preceding weeks, five wins in their last six Premier League matches, resulted in the result being a huge surprise.
Unfortunately, the least shocking thing about this result was the manner in which Arsenal saw the contest be ripped away from their grasp. As they were on the opening day of the season against Brentford, the Arsenal defence was bullied and overpowered far too easily by the Eagles – as Troy Deeney would delight in telling you, it is not the first time this has happened.
After Watford overcame Arsenal 2-1 at Vicarage Road in 2017, Arsene Wenger used his post-match interviews to decry a penalty the Hornets were awarded. Deeney heard about the Frenchman’s comments before he undertook his own post-match duties, and with a mischievous grin and terrifying glint in his eye, Deeney afforded Wenger his own analysis of Arsenal’s problems.
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Outmuscling and outmanoeuvring an Arsenal defence is far from being a Deeney trademark. Ivan Toney and co looked like they were playing against an Arsenal youth side, such was their ease at bullying the Gunners’ backline during their opening day 2-0 victory against Arsenal.
Barely a week later, Romelu Lukaku dragged the Arsenal backline kicking and screaming, scoring his debut goal after only 15 minutes, before playing a huge hand in Reece James’ thunderbolt finish 20 minutes later. Physical strength and size alone would not rescue the Gunners from such confidence draining situations.
Both assets are a factor, but they must be sharpened by an almost school bully mentality that immediately deters strikers from getting up close and personal. Very few players dared to take on Martin Keown, Tony Adams, Sol Campbell, Lauren, or Arteta’s managerial counterpart Vieira.
Vieira was part of five Arsenal players who suffocated Ruud Van Nistelrooy and sent him running for the Manchester United dressing room after he thundered a penalty against the crossbar. If Deeney, Anderson, Toney, or any other player who has overcame a Gunners’ backline in recent seasons lined up against the Invincibles’ defence, they would likely be the ones in desperate need for ‘cajones’ after the game.