Arsenal defeated Crystal Palace 2-1 at Selhurst Park on Sunday to register their first points of the 2015/16 Premier League campaign.
A superb Olivier Giroud volley and a Damien Delaney own goal, either side of Joel Ward’s sweetly struck equaliser, proved to be enough for Arsenal to complete their first win of the season.
Despite a valiant effort from the home side, Arsene Wenger’s team were worthy winners. The forward play of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud was scintillating at times, and Santi Cazorla, playing in his favoured deep lying playmaker role, pulled the strings all for much of the afternoon.
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Arsenal were unlucky not to be ahead after just five minutes when Scott Dann bravely blocked Giroud’s close-range effort, following some incisive link-up play involving Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey.
Just two minutes later, Sanchez should’ve put his side ahead. The chance was created by Arsenal playing at their fast, counterattacking best. Crystal Palace had a corner which was cleared. The ball fell to Cazorla, who picked out Ozil on the left-hand side; Ozil carried the ball forward and laid the ball off to Sanchez; The Chilean saw his first effort blocked by Joel Ward from close range; his second attempt was also well cleared, this time by James McArthur.
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After ten minutes, Arsenal had enjoyed 70% of the total possession, however, Crystal Palace were beginning to show glimpses of their own attacking talents. The home side looked dangerous every time the ball was at the feet of either Yannick Bolasie or Wilfred Zaha, the two wing wizards of Selhurst Park.
The first goal came after 16 minutes, and what a goal it was. Ozil was the provider, Giroud was the finisher. The ball was played to Ozil, down Arsenal’s left-hand side, after some persistent work from Sanchez. Ozil’s cross wasn’t his finest, it was at an awkward height and slightly behind Giroud.
This, however, didn’t matter. As the ball was in the air, Giroud twisted into position and timed his acrobatic volley perfectly. The strike was too good for Palace keeper, Alex McCarthy, and Arsenal took a deserved lead.
The away side almost doubled their lead midway through the first half; Zaha gave away the ball to Sanchez in Palace’s defensive third, the Chilean drove forward and hit a powerfully struck shot across McCarthy, who saved well. The rebound almost fell to the feet of Ozil, who was denied a certain goal by Ward, who cleared the danger.
On the 28th minute, Palace equalised. Jason Puncheon, Palace’s chief creator, played a decent ball into the box which was chested down by Bolasie, who laid the ball off to McArthur. In turn, Mcarthur rolled the ball back to the onrushing Ward, who struck the ball with a perfect blend of power and placement from 20 yards out leaving Petr Cech with no chance.
Crystal Palace were starting to come back into the game; Wilfred Zaha was giving Nacho Monreal a tough time down Palace’s right-hand side, but his final delivery wasn’t up to the required standard to trouble Cech too much.
The final talking point of the half came when Francis Coquelin, who was already on a booking, clearly pushed over Zaha as the Palace wide man was advancing into Arsenal’s half. Alan Pardew looked dismayed, and Arsenal, despite being the slightly better team, were lucky to go into halftime with 11 men still on the pitch.
Palace – who had won 11 of 19 Premier League matches under Pardew – started off brightly in the second half, and on 48 minutes they should’ve been ahead. Wilfred Zaha drilled in a fantastic ball to Wickham, who got in behind Arsenal’s back line, but his half-volley hit the post.
The game continued at a very high tempo and Arsenal were beginning to apply some sustained pressure on Palace’s back four, Ozil, in particular, was starting to become more and more involved in Arsenal’s attacking play.
On 55 minutes, Arsenal took the lead. Arsenal’s deep-lying creator, Cazorla, played the ball to Ramsey, who turned and played the ball out wide to Hector Bellerin. The young Spaniard’s cross was met powerfully by Sanchez, who outjumped Ward at the back post, his effort cannoned off a helpless Damien Delaney into the net, and Arsenal were back in front.
The next chance of the game fell to Puncheon, who was moved to a wide left position to accommodate the arrival of Jordan Mutch in the centre of the park. Puncheon gathered a chipped ball forward on his chest delightfully to evade Bellerin, he then had only Cech to beat, but his shot was tame and the Arsenal keeper saved comfortably.
Arsenal, despite being on the back foot for periods of the second half, always looked threatening going forward. After 68 minutes, Ramsey almost converted a left-footed half volley, following a delightfully disguised pass from Ozil.
The game threatened to diffuse after the 70-minute mark as both teams started to tire; Arsenal were keeping the ball well and making it difficult for Palace to create any meaningful opportunities.
In the dying moments, Palace did have a couple of half chances. The clearest effort came from a Puncheon corner which Arsenal failed to clear, the ball deflected off Mutch’s head and over before he could react in a meaningful manner.
In the final minute, substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain forced McCarthy into making a good save from a powerful, low effort, as did Cazorla, who put in another man of the match performance.
After the game, Alan Pardew was understandably frustrated, he said: “The game changed on two incidents. We hit the post at 1-1 and you have to argue they are lucky to have 11 players. Everyone knew in the stadium Francis Coquelin should have gone”.
He later added: “Arsenal were a hurt animal but the early period was bad for us, we made a lot of mistakes”.
Arsene Wenger was happy with his side’s hard-fought victory, he said: "Our fluency was good in the first half and our mental response was good at 1-1”.
He later added: “It was a bit scary to look at the chances we missed - you thought we would be punished after that but we dug in and hung on in the last 10 minutes, and that too is important in the season”.
Crystal Palace (4-2-3-1): McCarthy; Ward, Dann, Delaney, Souare; Cabaye, McArthur; Puncheon, Bolasie, Zaha; Wickham.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Cazorla; Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez; Giroud.
Man of the match: Santi Cazorla
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