Oh for the options and the gumption of Unai Emery. When his Arsenal side were undeservedly losing to Tottenham at half-time in their north London derby on Sunday, the Spaniard ruthlessly made two substitutions and changed his team’s formation despite their domination. It certainly helps when you have international footballers Aaron Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette on the bench, but it still requires an extraordinary level of self-belief to make such bold alterations.
Two days later, Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace side were deservedly losing the M23 derby 3-0 at half-time and Hodgson did absolutely nothing. He stuck with the same side that had drawn at Manchester United, beaten Burnley and were now being outclassed by a Brighton side reduced to ten men. It is a damning indictment of his squad options that he looked at his bench and could not see a way to change the tide.
“If I thought there were substitutions I could have made to help us win the game 4-3 I would have made them,” said the devastated Palace manager, who also said there was “nothing positive” to say about his team’s performance. Palace were unbelievably dire and yet for almost an hour, the same XI toiled while Alexander Sorloth, Jeffrey Schlupp and Jordan Ayew watched on. That trio has contributed a grand total of one Premier League goal and one Premier League assist this season. Game-changers? Not even their manager believes.
While Brighton were showcasing their strength in depth with two first-half goals from substitutes to pull themselves firmly into mid-table, Palace were failing in their latest attempt to record back-to-back victories to leave themselves among the dross at the bottom. A month ago I wrote of a sh*t six and did not include Hodgson’s men, writing that ‘perhaps only Palace are in a false position and could reasonably be expected to join the clubs above them in mid-table mediocrity’. How wrong I was; only Huddersfield have scored fewer goals this season.
Palace ended last season four points and four places ahead of Brighton, but while the Seagulls spent £60m this summer to improve their squad, Palace spent less than £10m and saw theirs get considerably worse. They are undoubtedly missing the guile and power of Yohan Cabaye and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who were third and fourth in their chance creation charts last season. And with a lack of decent striker forcing Andros Townsend and Zaha to play further forward and more central, last season’s principal creators are doing little damage in wide areas. Max Meyer created just one chance – from a corner – against the ten men of Brighton on Tuesday night. Hodgson would probably like to make five or six changes for Saturday’s visit to West Ham, but he simply does not have the options to make more than one or two.
“At least this year there are bodies and there are people who are competing for those places,” said Hodgson last week, but a week now seems an awful long time ago. The truth is that only 14 Palace players have started more than two Premier League games this season and never have they needed Christian Benteke more. That’s not a healthy place for any manager to find himself.
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