James McArthur’s hamstring injury has ruled him out for at least the next few Crystal Palace games heading into December, and his presence in midfield was a big loss for the Eagles at Turf Moor on Saturday.
The Scotsman had started every Premier League game of the season until the clash with the Clarets, with Patrick Vieira revealing on Friday that the midfielder would miss the trip to Burnley and be out for the next few weeks.
The injury means he’ll miss the home match against Aston Villa on Saturday and the trip to Elland Road to face Leeds a few days later, while the match away at Manchester United on December 5 could also be a doubt for him.
Vieira’s solution to this problem on Saturday was to push Cheikhou Kouyate slightly higher alongside Conor Gallagher at Turf Moor and play Luka Milivojevic in the holding midfield role.
The move didn’t go entirely as planned, with Kouyate regularly bypassed in midfield and finishing the match without having made a successful tackle and losing possession 11 times. He also allowed Ben Mee to get the jump on him for the first Burnley equaliser and had the third-worst match rating of players who started the game from WhoScored (6.30).
This is not entirely his fault; the Senegal international was playing out of his natural position – which after his superb performance against Wolves in the holding role seems like a mistake – and he is less mobile than McArthur when trying to harry possession from the opposition.
McArthur averaged 25 pressures of the ball per match in the six games leading up to his injury, while in the same role Kouyate only managed eight pressures against Burnley. When he has been deployed in the holding role – like against City and Wolves – his influence on the match goes up, as shown by the pressures he put on in those games (30 and 25, respectively).
Vieira now has a decision to make as to whether he keeps Milivojevic and Kouyate together for the game against Aston Villa on Saturday or he tries to rotate other midfielders into the system to sure up the backline.
Will Hughes is still yet to play a minute of action for the Eagles since arriving for £6million in August and is seen by many as McArthur’s natural successor in the team. Jeffrey Schlupp has also impressed in cameos off the bench and can play in the midfield three, but hasn’t started a match since the second game of the season against Brentford.
Vieira has said he sees Eberechi Eze playing centrally when he returns to the pitch, though it’s unlikely the 23-year-old will start against Villa on Saturday as his return from injury is still being monitored closely.
The solution to McArthur’s absence is not clear, then. This makes Saturday’s visit of Villa all the more intriguing to see how Vieira shapes up his side to try and dominate possession, and hopefully extend the club’s unbeaten run in the league to a record-equalling eight matches.