Today’s encounter with Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace was a match filled with pace and drama, as Arsenal claimed all three points at Selhurst Park, and top four rivals Manchester United were beaten by Swansea City. The results mean the Gunners have climbed into 3rd for at least 24 hours.
Arsenal arrived brimming with confidence after seeing off Middlesbrough last weekend to reach the FA Cup quarter-final, but they were away to a dangerous Crystal Palace side today. Arsene Wenger reshuffled his back line; David Ospina came back in goal as Nacho Monreal and Per Mertesacker made the back four, at the expense of Kieran Gibbs and Gabriel.
Early in the first half Arsenal got off to a dream start. The hard-working Danny Welbeck stole the ball off Pape Souare on the edge of the box and was clipped just inside the area. Mark Clattenburg was quick to award the penalty, and the in form Santi Cazorla stepped up to score his 6th Premier League spot kick, sending Julian Speroni the wrong way.
Palace didn’t seem deterred from their offensive initiative though as they continued to play their game. However, Arsenal set out with a clear game-plan, which was to press the opposition in numbers as they aimed to keep them at arms length. But the danger this afternoon would seem to manifest from the flanks, as Monreal took down Wilfried Zaha on the right wing. The resulting free-kick however, eventually finding Ospina’s gloves. The first yellow card of the game came to Joe Ledley for fouling Alexis Sanchez, as the Chilean tried to spark a counter attack.
Up the other end, Arsenal conceded two free-kicks on the left flank; Calum Chambers and Francis Coquelin being the guilty duo, however both resulting set-pieces came to no avail as Arsenal dealt with them comfortably, so was the pattern for the rest of the game.
Towards the end of the half Arsene Wenger’s men seemed to muster some real pace and swagger in their passing game, but Palace were equal to their game. The Gunners would soon double their advantage when Danny Welbeck raced in behind Palace’ defence after being put through by Giroud, who tapped in the rebound from Welbeck’s original effort off the goalkeeper. It was the Frenchman’s 50th goal for Arsenal and a goal which came at the stroke of half-time.
In the second half, Palace were immediately on the attack as they looked to get back in the game early on. As they did for most of the first half, they attacked down flanks and earned themselves 3 successive corners in the first 5 minutes. The home side looked menacing during this period, as Arsenal resisted their attacks and looked to retain possession. The game retained the same pattern as the 1st; Palace attacking the flanks as Arsenal resisted and tried their luck on the counter.
In the 50th minute Arsenal could have put some real daylight between the sides, when Mesut Ozil put Welbeck through, who crossed into the area only for Alexis to cross back for Giroud’s header to go inches over the bar. Palace came back at Arsenal though and earned themselves their 4th corner of the second half, as they continued their assault on Arsenal’s defence. The Gunners broke from the resulting corner as Chambers cleared finding Alexis, who bared down on goal one on one with the keeper, but putting his effort just wide. Real end to end stuff.
Later on, there was a scare when Ospina came rushing out on the edge of his area, to punch the ball out of danger in unorthodox fashion, leaving the goal momentarily empty. Arsenal fans might have had the incident at St. Mary’s in their minds in that moment, but this time the defence dealt with the danger. He seemed to have felt the full brunt of that incident however, when he went down hurt to the groans of the home side.
In the 66th minute Coquelin lost the ball in midfield, which left space for Palace to capitalise. The on-rushing Jason Puncheon blazed his curling effort well over as the ball was played to him on the edge of the box. They were allowed to attack again minutes later when Souare crossed from the left, the resulting header being put inches over the bar. Arsenal were again living a little dangerously when they failed to clear the ball as Palace attacked the edge of the D, earning themselves a free-kick. Puncheon stepped up and caught Ospina off guard as the Columbian was rooted, watching the ball fly just wide of the left post. Another close call.
With 15 minutes left Arsenal made two changes; Rosicky coming on Ozil and Gibbs replacing Welbeck to add some defensive security, as Wenger looked to preserve their lead. Rosicky’s first action was conceding a free-kick on the right flank. There was shouts for handball from the home side but replays show the ball hit Coquelin’s back. Before another free kick was taken, Alan Pardew brought on Shola Ameobi and Glen Murray, to add more offensive threat in the last 10 minutes.
Both team created chances as time ticked away. Arsenal made their final change with Gabriel replacing Alexis to try and keep the clean sheet. 5 minutes of injury time were added on to give Palace some hope to find a goal. There was urgency in every throw they took and every pass they made. Arsenal broke up the other to try and kill the game but Giroud’s cross into the box was well behind the on rushing Rosicky, who surely would’ve scored the team’s third.
Palace attacked in response and eventually found the net when Glen Murray latched onto a loose ball from a corner. There was only a minuted left, but Arsenal could’ve have been left red-faced, when the same man met Bolasie’s left-wing cross only to hit the post. The final whistle was met with relief, but Arsenal almost threw away a 2 goal lead in as many minutes.