With the game coming so late in the game-week, you could have been forgiven for thinking Arsenal had already played its game, the match against Crystal Palace was always going to be a crucial game. Particularly with the memory of the shambolic performance during the last game at Selhurst Park will very fresh in most fans’ mind.
The Arsenal manager sprung a bit of a surprise with his team selections and by extension, his formation. He replaced the Conservative MP, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Alexander Iwobi with Saed Kolasinac and Calum Chambers, which meant a return to the three at the back formation the manager started using just after the aforementioned shambolic performance in April.
For a team that seemed such sure relegation candidates under the previous manager, Roy Hodgson has definitely done wonders with them, even turning Wilfred Zaha into a cheap imitation of a world beater. The home team south London’s stadium has even returned to being the cauldron it always been, with the team’s supporters out in full force.
And even though they tried in the opening stages of the match, the noise and cheering from the crowd didn’t prevent Arsenal from taking a stranglehold of the game. It has been a pretty long time since an Arsenal team had so much control of a Premier League game – particularly an away game -, finding so much space between the lines and spraying passes upandan.
Even the usually profligate Alexis Sanchez was finding his target with his apses and being effective for perhaps the first time this season. Maybe it was because his contract situation has been finally resolved one way or another, or maybe it was him putting himself in the shop for potential suitors, the Chilean seemed like a man on a mission.
The first goal was due reward for Arsenal’s endeavour in the first half. Lacazette had two chances to cross the ball in the Palace box; his cross was blocked the first time and he elected to shoot from a tight angle at the goalkeeper. Speroni swatted the ball away to his right and the ball fell to an unmarked Shkodran Mustafi who very cooly slotted the ball into the net. 1-0 to the Arsenal.
For the rest of the half, it looked like only team was in it to win it, creating enough chances to be clear of the home team. But they were let down by shoddy finishing and some heroic goalkeeping. Ozil, by himself, should have had a brace, after being put through on goal a couple of times by Alexis. The home team were lucky to be only one goal down by the interval.
The second half was more of the same of the same with the away team applying all the pressure and verve. But almost out of nowhere, like it is typical against the Arsenal, Palace grabbed an equaliser. Zaha found a way to beat Chambers down the line and swung a ball into the box, Mustafi dithered and Townsend arrived at the ball and curled it past Cech. Of course, it was Palace’s first shot of the night.
Soon it became Alexis Sanchez time. Not long after the equaliser, Lacazette found himself with space in the Palace box and laid the ball off to Alexis who rifled the ball past Speroni at the near post. Only a few minutes later, he had his second, Jack Wilshere found him arriving into the box with a glorious ball over the top, Alexis controlled the ball with his thigh and passed the ball into the net.
Of course, it’s not an Arsenal match without some mini-heart attack moments. Palace pulled one back from a corner with five minutes and it seemed like another equaliser was inevitable. But somehow, the Arsenal team found some bottle to see out the game and secure a rare away win in the league.