Crystal Palace 0 Arsenal 2 – Superb Szczesny Keeps Arsenal In Pole Position
Arsenal continued their strong form away from home with a 2-0 victory against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park yesterday.
Whilst the three points and clean sheet were hugely welcomed after the midweek defeat against Borussia Dortmund, it wasn’t that straightforward throughout the 90 minutes as Arsenal played most of the second half with 10 men following Mikel Arteta’s dismissal, and Palace enjoyed large spells of possession and territory with Wojciech Szczesny making two world class saves to keep the home side out.
The game began with Arsenal in total control as the hosts seemed intent on defending deep. But for all the pressure we imposed, we failed to work Julian Speroni in the Palace goal; Olivier Giroud’s header over the bar from a good Bacary Sagna cross the only real opportunity in a one-sided beginning.
The returning Mathieu Flamini was then withdrawn with a groin injury inside ten minutes, with Serge Gnabry brought on forcing a reshuffle as Aaron Ramsey dropped into the middle alongside Arteta. Palace began to push forward and the game opened up a bit, but the home side only troubled Szczesny from range with the shots on target comfortable enough for the Pole.
Arsenal picked the pace up again and Santi Cazorla drilled an effort wide from a tight angle before Ramsey forced a good stop from Speroni from a similar position. Marouane Chamakh then wasted the best chance of the half for Palace, as he jumped far too early and completely missed the ball having found himself unmarked inside the area.
It was a disappointing first half as we tried to repeat some of the neat passing we saw in the previous League game against Norwich, but failed to have the same clinical impact in front of goal. The second half started with a greater intensity from the visitors and inside a minute we won a penalty when Guedioura hacked Gnabry down inside the area and Arteta coolly converted from the spot despite Speroni diving the right way.
Moments later Gnabry was involved again and almost doubled our advantage but for the spin of the ball as it fortunately bounced off him and headed goalwards after Mesut Ozil and Giroud linked up well. Giroud then really should’ve scored after Sagna had acres of space on the right and crossed perfectly but Giroud, who had left his marker, shouldered it wide from only a few yards out.
Controversy arose in the 65th minute when Palace sent the ball forward to Chamakh, who took a heavy touch and scrapped with Arteta with both players ending up on the deck, but the referee judged it to be a foul by the Arsenal captain, and somewhat bizarrely deciding it was denying a goal scoring opportunity (despite the touch taking the ball down the line rather than in on goal, it being 40 yards out, and it also being Chamakh) so Arteta was given his marching orders.
Arsene Wenger brought on Jack Wilshere for the impressive Gnabry, and Nacho Monreal for Cazorla as he looked to tighten things up given the loss of his two starting holding midfielders. Palace then really upped the ante and the addition of Bolasie gave them an added impetuous in attack that they hadn’t had previously in the game, as they and the home support sensed they could get something out of it with Arsenal a man down.
Szczesny made two world class saves within a space of a minute to keep it at 1-0. Firstly he pushed Ward’s strike from the edge of the area onto the bar and from the resulting corner expertly keeping out Jedinek’s volley.
Monreal’s superb solo run in the Palace area almost finished the game off in the nail-biting final stages that saw the hosts continue to pile on the pressure. It was ultimately an Arsenal counter attack that did secure the points in the 87th minute, Giroud flicking the ball on for Ramsey who drove into the space opened up as Palace sent numbers forward. The Welshman got it into the area and held the ball up well, waiting for and finding Giroud who had surged forward and met the Ramsey cross to head it home from six yards, much to the delight and relief of the travelling fans.
2-0 it finished and despite it being a pretty average performance from Arsenal, the three points were deserved as we controlled the game for the most part yet had Szczesny to thank after a superb display in goal for us. You won’t see many better saves this season than the one he pulled off to deny Jedinek.
I was in no way comfortable with what I was watching until Giroud finished things off in the 87th minute, but fair play to the team for grinding out the result. The best teams win even when they play badly and we showed we’re capable of doing just that, to keep us at the top of the Premier League.
As with the Dortmund game in midweek, several of our players weren’t quite playing up to the standard we’ve become use to in recent weeks. Ozil drifted in and out of it as he always does, yet despite some touches of genius his impact was limited. Cazorla struggled too and hasn’t yet found the fine form we became use to last season, but he’ll only improve as he continues his comeback from injury.
Credit must go to Ramsey though who was involved in most of our best moves going forward, and Gnabry who quietly went about his business in a positive way, winning the penalty and looking confident with the ball at his feet. At the back there were some excellent blocks and reads from Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, but it was Sagna who was the stand out outfield player for me yesterday. He had to deal with a difficult player for the final 30 minutes in Bolasie, and did so rather comfortably. Everything thrown at him in the air was dealt with, and his assured presence and experience was vital at the back. He’s still very much our first choice right back for me, as much as I like Carl Jenkinson, and really, really hope he gets a new contract as there’s so much more he can offer us in the coming years.
Wenger made a reference to fatigue after the game and also that there will be plenty of rotation for the League Cup tie against Chelsea on Tuesday. With Liverpool being our next League game on Saturday, fresh legs will be essential so giving players such as Giroud, Ozil, Ramsey and Sagna a break will be vital heading into that encounter.
That means we should see the likes of Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Monreal, Rosicky and probably Bendtner all start against Chelsea, plus a few of the youth prospects to get a chance to show what they can do on the big stage. I always enjoy watching us in the League Cup, but it’s not a competition we should or need to prioritise. We don’t have a squad big enough to seriously compete in all four competitions and with big games now coming thick and fast, rotation and rest for our key players, keeping them fresh for the League and European ties in the coming weeks, is fundamental.
We’ll need to play better against those sides than we did against Palace yesterday, but we know we’re capable of doing that. The next week will be a tough one, but it’s exciting to see how we react to that and hopefully show what we’re made of.