Palace 2-3 Arsenal
Crystal Palace’s record-breaking unbeaten run came to an end at the hands of Arsenal under the Selhurst Park lights. The steel that Roy Hodgson has instilled since arriving at the Club was evident as the Eagles refused to give up the run without a fight and came close to battling back from 1-3 down late on.
Mustafi opened the scoring for the visitors in the first half, tapping into an empty net from a tight angle after Julian Speroni had saved from Lacazette. Technically the goal should have been disallowed as Alexis Sanchez made a move towards the ball from an offside position, however, chalking the goal off would have been harsh on the Gunners.
The game had been even up until this point, but the goal saw confidence flood through Arsene Wenger’s men and only a fantastic save from Speroni denied Ozil with the German through one on one. Ozil, Sanchez and Wilshire were in full control and the hosts were lucky to get in at half-time just one goal behind.
Whatever Hodgson said to his troops during the interval had the desired effect. Just four minutes into the second-half, Wilfried Zaha drifted out wide left, and his cutback found Andros Townsend who curled home for his first goal of the season. Remarkably, this was Zaha’s first assist of the season despite him being involved in most of the goals Palace have scored this term.
The atmosphere in the stadium picked up and the visitors were clearly rattled as Palace peppered the Arsenal goal for the next five minutes. Unfortunately, the second goal did not arrive before Sanchez brought Arsenal out of their stupor thanks to some poor Palace defending. Benteke should have put his foot through a clearance and Kelly then misread the ball as it came back into the box and the Chile international thumped home at the near post just after the hour.
Wilshire was the standout player on the night, and just four minutes later his long ball put Sanchez through on goal, and the Arsenal number seven made no mistakes. Sadly, Kelly’s defending must once more be scrutinised as Sanchez lost the stand in full back far too easily.
With a two-goal cushion, Arsenal became complacent and Palace could have, and arguably should have, fought back to earn a point. James McArthur replaced Yohan Cabaye and the Scot found a way to stop Wilshire from playing and Palace could consistently attack the Arsenal goal as a result.
First, Zaha headed wide from six-yards out after an excellent cross from Bakary Sako. Then, a Zaha cutback just evaded everyone and moments later Schlupp found Sako, but his left-footed effort was deflected just wide. James Tomkins headed home the resulting corner at the back post, and all the missed chances before this looked set cost Palace a point, but one more big chance would follow.
Zaha unpicked the Arsenal defence with an inch-perfect pass that had Townsend on the by-line with five Palace players to pick out in the penalty area and with another one arriving late on the edge only for his cutback to miss everyone.
A strange game
It was a strange game. At points, Arsenal were so much better than us that I thought we’d be on the end of a thumping. Then, out of nowhere, a combination of Palace waking up and Arsenal falling asleep would see us create chances at will in short bursts. It is all ifs and buts, but if we had defended more like we have come to expect of late, we would have found a way to win this game. Instead, the poor defending left us with too much to do.
It is also arguably unfortunate for us to have been facing Arsenal when we did. Sanchez has been awful this season but suddenly finds his shooting boots against us. Anyone would think that there is a transfer window that is about to happen. The same could be said about Ozil who was unplayable at points across the evening. Then there is Wilshire who, undoubtedly, makes Arsenal a far tougher proposition.
Roy Hodgson’s Red ‘n’ Blue Army
A small pocket of fans was singing “Roy Hodgson’s red n blue army” at Leicester, but this match saw his name sung by most of the stadium for the first time. That is Selhurst Park’s way of saying that we accept you.
He is classy in his press conferences, has got us competing in every game we play and certainly has me believing that we can stay up this season. It is a testament to him that I was so frustrated with losing last night. A big part of me expected that we’d get something from the game and that is saying something when you factor where we were at the start of the season until now.
We have, largely, got the points that we needed from the run of “easier” games that we have had recently, but that gravy train is now over as the tougher teams cross our path. It is clear that Manchester City is being sacrificed as Hodgson hinted at slight knocks to key players that will keep them out of the New Year’s Eve clash against the Champions elect. Let’s face it, it would be a miracle if we got anything from the game even at full strength, so why bother when just two days later we face a much more critical opponent in Southampton?
Wilfried Zaha’s Frustration
Wilf was booked after the half-time whistle sounded for vehemently protesting some of the decisions that he believed went against him in the first forty-five minutes. I haven’t watched the game back on TV, but I must say that on the night I thought that they were physical but largely fair with Wilf. It certainly wasn’t akin to Huddersfield, who seemed hell-bent on injuring him.
He needs to find a way to come to terms with the treatment he gets as we cannot afford to lose him through suspension. He needs to try and go down the Eden Hazard route and accept each foul as a small victory against his opponent, and perhaps then the referee’s will give him more decisions that he deserves.
Man of the Match: Andros Townsend
Is he the new Jason Puncheon? Cast your minds back, and for a few seasons, Puncheon only performed in the second-half of the season. After being with the Club for three seasons, Puncheon had only scored one goal before Christmas before scoring multiple times after the new year. Townsend managed one before Christmas last season before turning it on in the second-half of the season, and he appears to have set himself on the same path this season.
This bodes well for us for the rest of this season, but I would love for him to do it for the entire season starting next year.
Up Next: Manchester City
They are on a day’s more rest, and we are going to be fielding a weakened team. We shouldn’t have much of a chance – but stranger things have certainly happened. I don’t want to tell you just to sit back and enjoy watching what is arguably one of the best football teams ever to play a season in England, but if they do run riot, we have to take to it like water off a duck’s back. We certainly can’t let it ruin our New Year’s Eve.
That being said, imagine what NYE will be like if we do find a way to get a result!
Come on you Palace!