Arsenal Consolidates Lead Atop English Premier League at Crystal Palace
Captain Mikel Arteta opened the scoring from the penalty spot less than a minute into the second half. Arteta was later given his marching orders by referee Chris Foy, but the three points were guaranteed courtesy of an Olivier Giroud header three minutes from the end of normal time.
Former Bristol City boss Keith Millen was in charge of Palace temporarily following the surprise resignation of Ian Holloway in the wake of a 4–1 home drubbing at the hands of fellow strugglers Fulham last Wednesday. Former Stoke City manager Tony Pulis is the favorite to take over at Selhurst Park on a permanent basis.
Palace have lost seven of their eight league games since returning to the Premier League with their only success coming against bottom club Sunderland. In fact, the club has only beaten Arsenal three times in their entire history and, with the Gunners unbeaten in their last 13 away matches, the chance of an upset appeared slim.
Palace would be hoping that Arsenal might be suffering from a drop in confidence following the shock home defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League last Tuesday.
Palace skipper Paddy McCarthy was still unavailable with Glen Murray also sidelined due to a knee injury. Jack Wilshere was less than a 100 percent fit and started on the bench for Arsenal. Mesut Ozil’s disappointing performance against Dortmund was apparently due to illness, but the German international was deemed to be healthy enough to start this one.
Interviewed by Fox Sports prior to the game, the Palace caretaker manager declared that he was “proud to be leading them out today” and hoped that the players would likewise be “proud to play.”
Millen duly received the support he asked for from his players and it was a gutsy first half performance from the home side.
Arsenal may have enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, but the Palace players denied their opponents space and fought for every ball. While defending doggedly, they also had their moments going forward with Arsenal reject Marouane Chamakh certainly having a point to prove to his former employers.
Wojciech Szczesny might have been expecting a quiet afternoon, but he was tested on a couple of occasions by shots from the edge of the area. The visitors’ only significant effort in the first half came when Aaron Ramsey was thwarted by a fine reflex save from Julián Speroni.
The question on everyone’s lips during the half time break was whether or not Palace could maintain the same tempo and application for another 45 minutes. That question was answered less than a minute into the second period.
Serge Gnabry turned sharply in the Palace penalty area and suckered Adlène Guedioura into a clumsy challenge. It was a poor effort by the Algerian as Gnabry was by no means in on goal at the time of the offence. Arteta calmly put the league leaders in front.
However, the Arsenal skipper went from hero to villain when he was judged to have pulled down Chamakh in the 65th minute. Although the incident took place 45 yards from the Arsenal net, Arteta was the last defender and the referee produced a red card.
Television replays suggested that Arteta might have been unfortunate as Chamakh appeared to have pushed him first. However, it did not look that way from a distance and in real time, so it is not hard to see how the referee arrived at his decision by very strictly applying the letter of the law.
Just three minutes later Palace might have had a penalty, and six minutes after that Szczesny made two excellent saves in the space of a minute. The Polish international first tipped a pile driver from Joel Ward onto the crossbar, and then executed a superb right handed stop to deny Mile Jedinak who struck his volley as sweetly as you like and must have been certain he had scored the equalizer.
Arsene Wenger had told Fox Sports before the match that Palace would have “commitment, fight, drive, and the support of that crowd” and stated that “if you’re not up for the fight you won’t get the points.”
This time last season his team most probably would not have seen it through. Several players, including Ramsey, Giroud, and Ozil looked very tired as the game drew to a close, but the first two still had enough left to combine for the sealing goal.
Ramsey broke free, held the ball up on the left side of the Palace box, waiting for Giroud, then placed a pinpoint cross onto the head of the Frenchman who made sure all three points went to Arsenal.
Both Ramsey and Giroud look like completely different players to last season and the main reason for that transformation must surely be the arrival of Ozil from Real Madrid.
Participants in any sport know that the better players you have around you, the better you perform yourself. The addition of the world class German international to the Gunners’ squad seems to have instilled a new confidence into the other players that frankly had been missing since the departure of Robin van Persie to Manchester United.
Arsenal showed tremendous character after going down to 10 men and their manager would have been more than satisfied.
There is a long way to go until May, but right now the future at the Emirates looks brighter than it has done for several years. Wenger’s side will surely be in the mix when the title is decided next spring.