Exceptional Crystal Palace Shock Lethargic Arsenal
Finding the Net
Christian Benteke scored his first goal in nearly a year from a superb Luka Milivojevic free-kick to put Palace 1-0 up inside 16 minutes.
The Gunners found an equaliser through Mesut Özil early in the second half. However, a defensive howler from Shkodran Mustafi combined with a brilliant run from Wilfried Zaha put the Eagles back ahead.
James McArthur then headed in a saved Benteke header to give Palace a two-goal cushion. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a scintillating solo goal to halve the deficit, but his side couldn’t add a third.
This result leaves Arsenal level on points with Chelsea in fifth, separated only by goal difference. Meanwhile, Cardiff City’s defeat to Liverpool ensured Palace would be playing Premier League football for a club record seventh successive season.
Arsenal’s Frailties Their Biggest Undoing
After their midweek win at Napoli, there would always be questions over whether the Gunners would suffer a European hangover.
Their plight was also not helped by fresh injuries to Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka and Denis Suarez, alongside a two-match suspension to Sokratis Papastathopolous.
Sokratis seemed the biggest loss for the Gunners. Mustafi’s previously mentioned error against Zaha summed up an extremely shaky afternoon against him at centre-back. Carl Jenkinson also struggled at right-back, failing to keep Zaha quiet for most of the match.
Arsenal were also second best up front all afternoon, having both fewer shots and shots on target than their visitors. Despite two impressive goals from Ozil and Aubameyang, the North London side very rarely troubled Palace and blew the few chances they did have.
The Gunners may be yet another side that can feel hard done by the officials, however. The ball appeared to hit Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the hand towards the end of the first half. While some may argue it wasn’t deserving of a penalty, similar incidents have been awarded spot kicks throughout the season.
Unai Emery’s side now face a tricky trip to Wolves on Wednesday night. The West Midlands side have become famous for their ability to take points away from the top six this season. If Arsenal perform like they did this afternoon, they could find their top four aspirations slipping further away from them.
Palace at it From the Off
All the talk surrounding Palace prematch was, as usual, centred around their talismanic winger Zaha. The Ivory Coast international had spoken two days before about his Champions League ambitions. This was followed the next day by rumours of Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain lining up a £65 million bid for him in the summer.
However, if Zaha was fazed or distracted by the paper talk he certainly didn’t show it. His pace, trickery and strength once again helped create several devastating counterattacks.
Benteke also had his best game in a Palace shirt for a long time. The Belgian has been linked with moves away from South London this season but, like his teammate, seemed unfazed by it. His goal was extremely well taken, and his superb hold-up play was crucial in bringing Palace’s attackers into the fray.
Palace’s defence shouldn’t be overlooked either. Many fans were both surprised and sceptical to see left-back Patrick Van-Aanholt dropped for Joel Ward, a natural right-back. However, the decision proved to be a wise one. The Palace veteran had a near faultless performance, despite the unfamiliarity of the position he was playing. Vincente Guaita was also sensational in goal, most notably with his point-blank save at the end.
But once again, Palace’s standout performer has to be the ever impressive Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The 21-year-old continued his sensational first full Premier League season by completing 8 interceptions against Arsenal – the most of any player against a top 6 side this season.
With safety secured, Palace can spend their remaining games looking up the table rather than down. They face a tricky game against Everton next weekend, with the Toffees having just thrashed Manchester United. However, if they can replicate their away performances at Selhurst Park, next week should be an extremely entertaining match.