Comment - Why changing the weak, leaderless dressing-room culture must now be Arsenal's transfer priority
It was not in itself the most important feature of the night but, after yet another capitulation that exposed its deepest flaws in the collective character rather than the technique or tactics of this Arsenal team, a prediction was made in the press box.
It was that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would linger longest in acknowledging what was a furious mass of away fans inside Selhurst Park and then slowly leave the pitch looking very dejected, having removed his top.
It has become almost as much a feature of a heavy Arsenal defeat as a designated player – in this case Theo Walcott – fronting up to the media to earnestly agree that it was not good enough and that the fans had been let down.
All of this would obviously be fine on isolated occasions – and we can hardly complain most at Oxlade-Chamberlain or Walcott when other team-mates literally just disappear – but these gestures ultimately feel empty and tiresome if they are not also accompanied by an urgent injection of fight in the performances.
It was startling enough to hear Walcott say that he could sense Crystal Palace wanted it more from the moment of kick-off but, as captain for the night, surely the next question is what did he immediately then do to change that?
The team’s subsequent performance delivered the answer. And if Oxlade-Chamberlain is feeling so concerned just now at this moment of greatest crisis in Arsene Wenger’s 21 years at Arsenal, one small way of helping might be to close down speculation about his own future at least until the season has ended.
Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain, though, are a long way from being the root of the problem. Indeed, if they were surrounded by leaders rather than trying to step into voids for which they are not naturally suited, they could yet become a big part of the solution.
It ultimately all comes back to how Wenger has not paid enough attention to the blend of characters he has assembled. Would Alexis Sanchez’s sulks have been tolerated – or even happened at all – if a Roy Keane, a Patrick Vieira, a Tony Adams or a John Terry was sharing the same dressing-room?
The real issue is what Graeme Souness so perceptively pinpointed as being “a team of son-in-laws”.
“There are no rascals; they are all nice guys,” he said. Every team needs an edge and, whatever Wenger says about the captaincy, the bottom line is that great teams invariably also have great dressing-room leaders.
It is stating the obvious to point out the void that was never filled after Vieira and Adams were no longer Wenger’s on-field proxy. Per Mertesacker is actually one of the better captains in the 12 years that have followed Vieira’s departure but, like Thomas Vermaelen and Mikel Arteta before him, he is barely now out on the pitch.
Since the first 5-1 defeat in Munich, when Arsenal so fell apart once Gabriel replaced Laurent Koscielny, it has been obvious that Arsenal have been crying out for Mertesacker’s presence. Yes, he might get exposed for pace here and there but he would certainly win some headers, organise the defence and also maybe inject a bit of fear into his own team-mates as well as the opposition.
Yet what we are seeing now when things are going so badly is also reflective of the culture when things went relatively well. Isolated wins last season against champions Leicester City and then this season against champions-elect Chelsea were followed by celebratory selfies.
Jack Wilshere famously marked his 13-minute cameo role in the FA Cup final with what looked like a raucous drinking session just days before he was due to join up with England.
It all sent a subconscious message of players being far too easily satisfied when they had still not got close to their ultimate ambitions in either the Premier league or Champions League.
Whatever happens to Wenger – and the suffocating consequence of not bringing clarity to this situation has become more obvious by the week – the wider priority must be in the transfer window this summer. Decisions should not rest principally on the position, potential or technical merits of signings but on their character, their capacity to lead and inject a winning and aggressive drive to a team that has been going missing in adversity.