Football

Arsenal defeat Palace: Life's a Pitch

Not Quite the Emirates, is it? (©GettyImages)
Not Quite the Emirates, is it? (©GettyImages).

Cast your minds back to the 15th of February, 2012; after having injury problems at full-back and having had sleepless nights thinking about the pace of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott, AC Milan hacked the flanks of the San Siro pitch to pieces in a bid to stop any threat on either wing.

Milan beat Arsenal 4-0 and there's no question that the Serie A side were streets ahead of their opponents and deserved to win, but surely had the Gunners been able to exploit Milan's fullback problem they would have been able to at least match the Italians' attacking magic?

As we move back to the present day, Arsenal refused to complain about the pitch at Crystal Palace and got the result they wanted, but their victory could have been much more comfortable had they been playing on a smoother pitch.

After a long string of home matches it's understandable that Arsenal were going to struggle to adapt to a non-artificial pitch for the first twenty minutes (although they did totally control the game), but had that been on the semi-artificial Emirates pitch then Arsenal would have killed the game off within minutes.

Certainly, Arsenal weren't as sharp as they had been a week previously against Norwich: their inability to string passes together in the box prevented them from scoring in the first half and coupled with Crystal Palace showing tremendous character throughout the game (backed up by sensational Palace support) it was always going to be a tough game for the Gunners.

When Arsenal were stringing their passes together the ball was often bobbling and taking far too long to reach the target. Considering Palace have tried to play decent football over the course of this season it is hindering their own progress as well as those who come to Selhurst Park looking to play with style.

One Arsenal player who managed to adapt to the pitch immediately was Jack Wilshere; after Mikel Arteta's controversial sending off, Wilshere calmly slotted into the holding position which had already been held by two other players in the same match and did his job with minimal fuss.

He made his passes more authoritatively than usual with effective results. His passes just kept going to the area of the pitch he wanted and with Arsenal now having a serious injury problem in that position this is a perfect chance for Wilshere to slightly reinvent himself and hold (no pun intended) that position with aplomb for a few weeks until Arteta and Flamini are back and he could just start a battle between the three for that spot. 

One position that Arsene Wenger will be relieved to see that he needn't worry about for the next few weeks is the goalkeeper. Wojciech Szczesny put in one of his strongest performances in an Arsenal shirt and dealt with everything thrown at him (well actually kicked at him, as throwing things at him would mean a free-kick to Arsenal) and made two sensational saves which prevented Arsenal from dropping points.

The point of being a great goalkeeper is that not only must one be a great shot-stopper, but one must also be a great show-stopper. The likes of Fabianski and Almunia have had matches where they've dazzled spectators with a number of wonder-saves; but in matches where the opposition have had one chance in the 90th minute they have lost concentration and conceded a soft goal.

Szczesny has had his fair share of ridiculous concentration-losses over his Arsenal career, but in general he has managed to deal with teams who've only had to bother him once or twice in a match with calm well beyond his years. Goalkeepers tend to reach their peak at about thirty-one years of age and if Szczesny can keep improving over the next eight years he will surely become one of the great goalkeepers of our time.

Picking up three points in such difficult circumstances as Arsenal did proved that they have the potential to challenge for the title. Manchester United have not done so this season, but under Ferguson they would very often be off-colour and still win matches.

The next few weeks will be a monumental challenge for Arsenal; particularly without Arteta, Flamini and all the other injuries, but if they come through it still top of the table or even within touching distance of the other challengers it is easy to see them really challenging for silverware this season.

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Topics:
Football
Premier League
Arsenal
Crystal Palace

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