CRYSTAL PALACE 2
van Aanholt 63 pen Ayew 87
BY ROB SUTHERLAND AT LONDON STADIUM
James McArthur’s transformation under Roy Hodgson, from a man linked with a transfer away from the club to one of Crystal Palace’s most reliable players, is one which won’t grab headlines.
But his performance on Saturday against West Ham United proved his value not only to Palace but also to critics who don’t see the quality of his game.
McArthur played in a deeper-lying midfield position in light of Luka Milivojevic’s suspension, and the Scotsman combined excellently with his two midfield partners James McCarthy and Cheikh Kouyate to limit West Ham’s attacking prowess through the centre of the pitch.
It was a mark of McArthur’s ability to frustrate, harry and obstruct that West Ham’s many attacking opportunities came from them working the ball down both wings, rather than through the centre of the pitch.
The opening goal of the game came as a result of Ryan Fredericks cutting in from the wing to cross the ball to Sebastien Haller.
A look at individual match statistics shows just how influential McArthur was.
He competed a total of 12 ball recoveries from West Ham players, made the highest number of pass attempts – 73 – of which he completed 59, and was the Palace player with the most defensive aerial duels won, winning headers on all four of the occasions he took them on.
Palace manager Roy Hodgson included James McArthur among a number of players that have contributed significantly in recent weeks.
“They’re all giving the club every single ounce of what they can give,” he said. “They are working very hard to become a good team.“
To really appreciate the change in McArthur’s fortunes at Palace, you only have to look back at his short spell under Frank de Boer. He was considered surplus to requirements under the Dutch manager and it looked like his time at Palace would come to an end. He didn’t feature in any of De Boer’s line-ups and had reportedly been offered to other clubs.
Sam Allardyce, his previous manager, rarely allowed McArthur to complete matches. It became a regular sight to see the player come off the pitch once the clock hit 70 minutes.
Under Hodgson, not only does he regularly complete 90 minutes, but he has become one of the first players named in the team, and as his omission due to injury against Tottenham Hotspur proved, he’s a significant component in the manager’s gameplan. Palace lacked midfield presence in that game, in part because of the energy that McArthur brings to the side.
What his performance against West Ham proved was that he has the tactical dexterity to play a role that many would previously not have considered him for. Sitting in that deeper position, McArthur was asked to pick the ball up in defensive areas and to move it forward.
Palace are used to seeing him chasing opponents, harrying them into encounters with Milivojevic, who typically does the retrieving of possession. This time, McArthur was tasked with doing the distributing. And he did it supremely well. This is a player that cost Palace a club record £7million when he signed in September 2014, a bargain in today’s market.
His contributions in the five years that have followed haven’t always been valued as highly as they should have been.
But as Hodgson has proven, players of his quality don’t always have to do the obvious to play a major role in a team. McArthur is a huge player who doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
Palace came from behind at London Stadium.
The absence of Milivojevic – such a composed penalty taker – did not matter when the Eagles were awarded their 30th penalty since the start of the 2016-17 campaign – easily the most of any side in the top flight during that period.
Patrick van Aanholt stepped up to confidently stick the ball in the bottom left corner after Declan Rice had handled in the box.
Jordan Ayew’s 89th-minute winner was an example of VAR doing its job.
Initially the referee’s assistant flagged for an offside when the Ghana striker stabbed home Martin Kelly’s nod down. But replays showed that Ayew was onside.
It was the 28-year-old’s third goal of the season. Palace have not lost when he has scored for them, that is including last season.
The Eagles have won four of their last six matches – taking 13 points. That form was enough to lift them to fourth in the Premier League table on Saturday night – the highest-placed London club – before wins for Arsenal and Chelsea dropped them down to a still highly respectable sixth spot.
Crystal Palace (4-5-1): Guaita 8, Van Aanholt 7, Cahill 8, Kelly 8, Ward 7, McArthur 9 (Townsend 82), McCarthy 8, Kouyate 8, Schlupp 7, Zaha 7, Ayew 8 (Benteke 90). Not used: Hennessey, Meyer, Camarasa, Tomkins, Dann.
PICTURE BY KEITH GILLARD