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Talking Tactics

Dynamic duos: Zaha and McArthur a threat on the left

Adrian Clarke 13 May 2020
Wilfried Zaha and James McArthur, Crystal Palace

Adrian Clarke explains why the Crystal Palace pair are integral to the Eagles' attack

Adrian Clarke looks at some of the standout partnerships of the 2019/20 season so far. 

Wilfried Zaha and James McArthur

Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha is a gifted player but, like all wingers, he relies on quality service. In 2019/20, much of that has arrived from James McArthur 

Playing on the left side of a three-man midfield, the Scot has forged a terrific understanding with the Eagles' talisman. 

McArthur is Palace's best ball-winner, winning more tackles and interceptions than any team-mate, with 40 and 52 respectively.

He is extremely efficient at retrieving possession before shifting the ball on and Zaha, who normally plays outside him on the left flank, is his first port of call.  

McArthur makes on average 7.6 passes per match to the winger, making this by some distance Palace's most prolific pass combination.

The pass map below, taken from February's 1-0 home win over Newcastle United, shows how McArthur gives Zaha opportunities to attack.

McArthur passes to Zaha v Newcastle
McArthur/Zaha pass map

Zaha also enjoys combining with the experienced McArthur 

He has laid the ball off to McArthur 130 times in 2019/20, making their aggregate pass combination one of the highest in the division between a midfielder and forward.  

Given they play for a team averaging 44 per cent of possession, their total of 344 passes is significant.  

Manager Roy Hodgson will have been delighted that two of his most important players have struck up such a successful understanding.

Top combinations for Palace passes*
Player 1 Player 2 Player 1 to 2 Player 2 to 1 Combined passes
McArthur Zaha 214 130 344
Van Aanholt Zaha 162 110 272
Cahill Van Aanholt 135 83 218

*2019/20

Palace are statistically the least creative Premier League team
, carving out only 168 chances from open play.

Brighton & Hove Albion and Aston Villa, two teams below the Eagles in the league table, are way ahead of them in this department, with 235 and 237 respectively.

This underlines the importance of Zaha and McArthur's natural synergy.

They have created six chances apiece for each other and are the Palace pair with the most key passes.

Top combinations for Palace chances*
Player 1 Player 2 Player 1 to 2 chances created
Zaha McArthur 6
McArthur Zaha 6
Benteke Zaha 6

*2019/20

Individually, McArthur and
Zaha are two of Palace's most consistent performers, but their value as a pairing is also considerable.

When you next get the chance, watch how these two players combine down the Eagles' left to devastating effect.

See: Adrian Clarke's dynamic duos in 2019/20

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