Is Michael Olise due a Crystal Palace start against Arsenal?
Eight minutes after half-time was all it took for Patrick Vieira to make the big call of withdrawing Jordan Ayew for the talented Michael Olise.
With Crystal Palace 2-0 down at Selhurst Park to Leicester City, the Arsenal icon needed something different.
There’s an unwritten rule to wait 15 minutes after the interlude before making personnel alterations, but the Eagles boss had to act to preserve an unbeaten home run that stood at three games at the time.
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The Eagles were successful, too, claiming a point that seemed out of reach after the opening half. If their draw with Brighton & Hove Albion days earlier felt like two points dropped — Neal Maupay equalised in the 95th minute — the fightback against the Foxes certainly counts as a point gained.
Less than 10 minutes after Olise’s introduction, Vieira’s troops had halved the deficit after the youngster became the first teenager — since an 18-year-old Clinton Morrison netted against Sheffield Wednesday in May 1998 — to score a Premier League goal for the South London club.
11 minutes after that strike on the hour, the 19-year-old’s dangerous ball into the six-yard box wasn’t cleared and the ball eventually broke for Jeffrey Schlupp to head home from 12 yards.
It wasn’t just the goal and his indirect involvement in the second, but the positivity of the summer arrival’s play in those 38 minutes on the pitch wholly impressed.
In just over a half-hour of action, the key elements Vieira earmarked in his game were evident: there was an eye for goal, there was the inclination to create chances for teammates and generally look to fashion promising situations.
He recorded a joint Palace-high three passes into the penalty area and as many progressive passes, six fewer than Luka Milivojevic and three lower than Wilfried Zaha, although it comes with a caveat that both featured for 90 minutes.
The teenager’s thrust in possession was equally evident and there’s a feeling he’s nearing that maiden start under his French manager. This is not only due to his undoubted talent but also the frustration over Ayew, the man who currently occupies the wide attacking role on the right.
Despite the Ghanaian’s industry without the ball — he ranked highest for pressures per 90 last season and sits in third for the same metric after seven games — a prolonged run without scoring has inevitably reduced the possible match-winners in a squad that currently lacks many.
The perceived absence of a cutting-edge, a failure to make the most of half-chances and general frustration over Ayew’s final-third decision-making have frustrated the Selhurst Park faithful.
It felt as if something snapped following his failure to convert the Eagles’ biggest chance of the night against Brighton which eventually came back to haunt the hosts.
Vieira’s men could have doubled their advantage and secured their second win under the Frenchman, instead, they came to rue that miss as Maupay grabbed a late equaliser.
Calls have been growing for Olise to supplant the former Swansea City attacker, but the Palace boss was probably always going to ease in the teenager, regardless of the back injury he suffered before joining the club.
A testing run in the opening weeks of 2021/22 has seen them play Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Leicester City, games the South London club probably weren’t expected to win on paper.
Fixtures going into the demanding Christmas period sees them face eight sides currently in the bottom half of the table, so Olise’s minutes ought to increase as he adapts to the top flight.
“I think we are all excited about his talent,” Vieira said after the Leicester performance, “but at the same time, we have to understand it will take time to be a Premier League player. It is a long season, so he will play some games, but we have to give him time as well to develop himself.
“He had a long injury and he is not at his best yet, but he is improving and he will be a really important player for us.”
This weekend’s clash with Arsenal may come too soon for the playmaker to the disappointment of excited supporters willing to see the ex-Reading star play from the off.
Indeed, it’ll surprise away fans if Olise’s in the XI on Monday night despite his impressive home showing against the Foxes given his manager’s inclination to avoid throwing the youngster in the deep end.
Back at his old club, Vieira’s troops are looking to extend their unbeaten run at the Emirates Stadium to four games, having played out to one win and two draws on their last three visits.
A win would be surprising, despite the Gunners’ 11th-place standing, but the Frenchman will target one nonetheless as the South London outfit seek successive London derby victories for the first time since April 2017.
Maximum points at the home of their cross-town rivals will delight the away fans, even if Olise doesn’t play significant minutes as there’s a strong feeling it’s a matter of when, not if, the talented teenager breaks into the side.
With Eberechi Eze now back in training after the Achilles injury he suffered at the backend of Roy Hodgson’s time and Olise slowly being integrated, Palace fans have more reason for optimism in the autumn and heading into the winter.
Vieira’s short tenure has been accompanied by positivity on and off the field and the progress of their two talents adds to that as the Eagles finally look to secure results in the coming weeks and months to match their encouraging growth.