Before the game, every man and their dog thought that Arsenal would cruise it against Crystal Palace. The Eagles were supposedly in disarray after Ian Holloway left his position as Palace manager, and second to bottom of the Premier League. Arsenal however were top of the league, two points clear of Chelsea and Liverpool, and 8 clear of reigning champions Manchester United.
And while Arsenal started the game with the majority of possession, they found it difficult to find a way through a well-organised and resolute Crystal Palace side. Even with a high-profile midfield of Mathieu Flamini, Mikel Arteta, Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey, we couldn’t really fashion any real clear cut chances in the first half. The Palace side were so deep we found it hard to find any space in behind and looked short of ideas.
If anything, Crystal Palace had the better chances on the break, the best of which fell to Bannan who had a free header go over the bar. They also had a couple of long range efforts which went straight at Szczesny.
The game was level at half time and on reflection, it was a fair scoreline going into the half time break. But if Arsenal struggled to test Speroni in the Crystal Palace goal, they got a slice of luck as Guédioura foolishly took out Serge Gnabry and gifted Arsenal a penalty only 2 minutes into the second half. Mikel Arteta stepped up and coolly finished from the spot, converting 5 from his last 6 penalty kicks.
The game opened up as you would expect but on 65 minutes, Crystal Palace had a bit of luck when Mikel Arteta was sent off for taking down Arsenal favourite Marouane Chamakh 40 yards from goal. The former Arsenal striker was in a foot race with Mikel Arteta and while technically the Spaniard was the last man, they were both 40 yards away from goal. Was it a clear goalscoring opportunity? Hardly. Was it a red card? Well “expert pundit” Michael Owen firmly believed it was a red card but I think it was a harsh decision. Chamakh still had a hell of a lot of work to do from there to carve out a clear chance and we had Ramsey and Koscielny chasing back. And replays showed that if anything, Chamakh moved into Arteta and brought the Arsenal midfielder down. So for me, it was a harsh decision.
From then on, as you would expect, Crystal Palace went for it and in the space of two minutes they forced two world class saves from Szczesny. The first was from a long range effort from Joel Ward, and then from a superb volley from Mile Jedinak. They were really fantastic saves and at 1-0, were hugely important.
For about 15 minutes after the sending off, Arsenal were panicking and couldn’t keep the ball. Crystal Palace pressed well and we unfortunate to make that pressure count. Arsenal strangely seemed to be knocked out of their stride and couldn’t string two passes together. In the last 8 minutes however, Arsenal seemed to get their composure back and after some great play by Ramsey, he lofted a delighted cross for Giroud who scored a well-deserved goal to kill off the game.
So in the end, a well fought 3 points which was vital going into league games against Liverpool and Manchester United in the next couple of weeks.
Szczesny was excellent in goal, and the back four were solid. Arteta was okay until he was sent off, and Ramsey was industrious as ever. Gnabry looked bright when he came on for the injured Flamini and Olivier Giroud was excellent up front. He gave absolutely everything and you could see how exhausted he was at the end of the game – and he totally deserved his goal.
Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özit however were poor today. Santi’s passing range was well off and it was surprising to see him execute so many misplaced passes. Özil couldn’t get into the game and it was his sloppy pass (which came from a poor Özil cross) which lead to Arteta’s sending off. There’s no doubt he is a world class talent but today he looked nowhere near like a £42.3 million signing. His lackadaisical play today could have cost Arsenal points.
I haven’t seen any of the Liverpool v West Bromwich Albion or Manchester United v Stoke City games, but followed the games on Sky Sports News. Liverpool look like a completely different beast this season and Luis Suarez scored a (reportedly) exceptional hattrick and Daniel Strurridge also scored a top class goal. West Brom have been excellent this season (beating Manchester United at Old Trafford and earning a draw against us this year) so for Liverpool to sweep them aside with ease is ominous. They have looked very good whenever I’ve seen them play and they are genuine title challengers for me.
Manchester United were losing 2-1 to Stoke City with 78 minutes played, until Wayne Rooney and Hernandez stepped up and stole a late win at Old Trafford. As I was following the game, I just knew Stoke would fold (it is a Mark Hughes team after all) and with odds of 9/2 for United to win with 15 minutes left I put on a fiver to win a tidy £27.50. My only regret was I didn’t put more on it. It will be interesting to see on Match of the Day tonight how United played and if they were lucky to take all three points. I’ve never rated David Moyes and I just wonder if teams are no longer afraid of taking the game to them any more. Alex Ferguson had this power over other Premier League teams, where they would come to Old Trafford and park the bus. Teams aren’t doing this any more and hopefully, this will continue.