Close your eyes and cast your mind back to that horrible defeat to Sunderland. Now open your eyes and think about what happened last night. Feels good, doesn't it? Here are Naveed's Five Things to help you cherish that 3-0 win over Arsenal.
The Spine Stands Tall
A strong spine is critical to the success of a football team; as Arsenal are finding out, having a collection of good players is little without strength at its core. Wayne Hennessey is growing in stature, Mamadou Sakho looks every inch a top Premier League centre-back, Luka Milivojevic links defence and midfield excellently and Christian Benteke is leading the line superbly, showing his game is about more than goals.
Those four players were important in the win over Arsenal. Hennessey made a good save while the scores were level, Sakho dealt with Welbeck and Giroud with ease, Luka ensured Arsenal’s creative players did not get space and Benteke bullied Arsenal’s centre backs allowing Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha freedom to attack. This combination led to perhaps the best Palace result and performance in a generation.
Cabaye has Found His Role
“He’s a number 10” some said. “No, he’s a deep playing midfielder” people countered. As ever, the truth appears to be somewhere between the two. Since Milivojevic came into the side to shield the back four, Yohan Cabaye has gone from strength to strength in the Palace midfield. While still coming deep to collect the ball and start moves, he is also joining in in the final third and his goal last night was just reward for a player who has been among the best performers since Allardyce took over.
Added to his impressive interception, tackles and pass completion stats, he is now able to influence games more, safe in the knowledge that there is a midfield minder behind him. In effectively rotating with Jason Puncheon, the midfield has a greater fluidity. His contribution to the team’s resurgence cannot be underestimated. He has been critical to it.
Considering he was a doubt to even play and he's not had the best season, last night may have been Yohan Cabaye's best game for CPFC— Ed Malyon (@eaamalyon) April 11, 2017
Squad Players Stepping Up
Palace have the highest number of players unavailable through injury in the Premier League; a daunting fact with a tough run-in. However, coming into a well drilled, organised and in-form side, Jeffrey Schlupp and Martin Kelly have settled quickly and there has been little ill effect to the side.
They were part of a resolute defence, not allowing Arsenal a shot on target in the second half and critical to a fourth clean sheet in six games. Kelly in particular is worthy of praise – after being shot of all confidence and played out of position by Alan Pardew, Allardyce has shown faith in selecting him over Damien Delaney and last night this was repaid as he did not put a foot wrong in his favoured position.
Townsend Back to Life
Townsend had a frustrating first five months at Palace – playing on the left wing, his manager calling him out publically on his annoyance at playing there and being in and out of the side culminating in Newcastle attempting to re-sign him.
However, since that move did not materialise and in Big Sam’s more structured set-up, he is improving week by week. His work rate, defensive coverage and use of the ball have all improved – he is shooting on sight less and linking play more. Swapping wings with the peerless Zaha, he is threatening full backs on both sides.
This is the player Alan Pardew signed; under Allardyce, he is delivering.
This is a Real Transition
So much was made by the previous management about the team being in “transition”. This was a term used to mask a run of six league wins in a year; a term used to mask defensive disorganisation; a term used to excuse failure to address issues.
Allardyce has shown how to really implement a transition. It took slightly longer than some fans expected, though the manager always targeted the end of March. But the plan was clear – focus on defensive organisation, rejuvenate the spine and have a platform for the creative midfielders to create and the wingers to torment.
Step by step, the plan has come together – the players have clearly brought into Sam’s transition. The win over Arsenal was a perfect demonstration of this – the centre backs stayed strong, the fullbacks diligent in defence and going forward, and a midfield to build from. Long may it continue.