Arsenal edged passed Crystal Palace on Saturday, Arsene Wenger seemed to will his players over the line, and it wasn’t quite comfortable until the 90th minute.
At 1-0 the game seemed to be going forever, and it was one of the tensest games I’ve ever watched in my life.
Giroud managed to break his Premier League goal drought (which had lasted a devastating four games) to secure the three points, and maintain Arsenal’s two-point lead at the Premier League summit.
So how did the team, that sat one place from bottom before kick-off, with three points from eight (now nine) games, manage to keep the Premier League leaders so quiet for so long?
Matthieu Flamini’s influence and importance for the Arsenal side was highlighted again (after the defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League midweek) as Arsenal seemed to be weak through the middle without him.
Before going off eight minutes into the match, Flamini had already recovered possession twice and made one successful tackle. He also had a 100 per cent pass success rate.
One might say that in eight minutes it’s easy to not put a foot wrong, but the statistics tell a different story: in the same time, Marouane Chamakh had already misplaced two passes, and all four of Arsenal’s other midfielders (Arteta, Ozil, Ramsey and Cazorla – generally considered the more stylish and forward thinking players in Arsenal’s midfield) had misplaced one.
What’s more is that six of Flamini’s ten passes were forward. Arsenal have to hope that Flamini will be back soon.
This week he would have had the midweek off anyway, given Arsene Wenger’s preference to play a youthful side for the League Cup, but Arsenal are going to want him to be fit for the month ahead with Liverpool, Manchester United and Dortmund to play in November.
To say that Arsenal looked disorientated without the combative Frenchman in this game is an understatement. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story: Crystal Palace played their hearts out.
In the first half Palace managed to stifle the attacking threat, to the point where in the first half Arsenal were reduced to four shots, while managing to get seven away themselves. Arsenal’s goal led a charmed life in the first half, Chamakh seemed to put it straight at Wojciech Szczesny, and Barry Bannan was unlucky to not have his shots on target, because, truth be told, the Arsenal shot stopper was well and truly beaten.
The battle in the middle of the park, throughout the first half was well and truly won by the Eagles. The Arsenal team that managed to carve away at the Norwich and Napoli defence and midfield was scurrying around outside the box, waiting for a mistake, which just never happened.
The second half started in the worst possible way for the south Londoners, Serge Gnabry had come on for Flamini, allowing a bit of pace on the wings, that could have otherwise been missing.
With a move just too quick for Adlene Guedioura, he managed to win a penalty for the Gunners. Yet still Arsenal were on the back foot. Arsene Wenger’s men were searching for that elusive second goal, and had sent all of their players, bar Arteta, into the fray to attack the solid Palace goal.
We can argue from now until kingdom come about whether or not Arteta should have been sent off, but the fact of the matter is he was last man, and Chamakh went to ground (after watching the replays Chamakh went down arguably by his own will, and arguably as Arteta pulled him down, but in real time I thought it was a red. I clutched my wondering what on earth the experienced midfielder was playing at!).
Jack Wilshere came on and played an excellent 21 minutes, in the slightly more defensively minded position, behind the play as Wenger looked to prevent Palace from flooding the midfield and secure the three points.
Wilshere managed 24 touches, and made19 passes all of which came off. The young Englishman has come under a fair bit of criticism recently, and in all fairness has not been at his best (and perhaps playing 90 minutes on Saturday he wouldn’t have been), but against Palace he was a stand out performer, even though he was only on the pitch for 21 minutes.
Around the 70 minute mark Palace seemed to gain a belief about them and they pushed on. Over the second half Yannick Bolasie, Dwight Gayle and Jimmy Kébé all came on and pushed Arsenal back into their shell, Wojciech Szczesny made two magnificent saves, as Palace threatened to equalise, and in all fairness more then deserved to.
The pace on the wings was unbelievable in 32 minutes Bolasie had 27 touches getting in and around the box, making a mockery of Arsenal’s back four. He wasn’t playing alone, but for me, his introduction changed Arsenal’s job from a ‘contain Palace and the lead’ to a ‘clear the ball as soon as possible because they can score any second’ job. A stand out performer, the lad has a huge future ahead of him.
Looking at the way he and Wilfred Zaha played last season in the Championship, you can see that for sure.
Arsenal got lucky to get the second goal.
I’m not saying the finish wasn’t class, and Ramsey’s cross was beautiful, but Palace made an error, and left a huge amount of space in the middle. We forget, with players like Gnabry and Theo Walcott, just how quick Wilshere and Ramsey can be to get off the line, but the two of them have extremely impressive acceleration.
Arsenal got the ball to Ramsey and a perfectly weighted ball was floated into the box, it wasn’t really a cross so much as an invitation, Giroud turned up in the box and headed home with aplomb.
It’s been a few games since he’s scored in the league and that is what he’s paid for. Sure, he’s been making goals and holding the ball up and continuing play, keeping possession and being a team player, but his primary job is surely to put the ball in the back of the net, and that’s what he did – so that’s got to feel good for him.
In his blog on GiveMeSport, Bolasie said that he thought that Palace ‘should remain positive as [they] only lost 2-0 to the Premier League leaders.’ But I don’t think that quite covers it.
Arsenal played badly, because Palace made them play badly, and the Eagles should hold their heads high. They managed to stifle an attacking team that had scored 18 league goals (20 now) this season, and if it wasn’t for a few decisions, and a little bit of luck, they could have got the three points.
Still, Arsenal go marching on, and if they can continue to win these games, they’ll be about when it comes to January at least.
The pundits are saying that they might struggle against ‘stronger’ opposition, but only beating the top six teams in the league at home and away will leave you with 38 points – correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think anyone has won the league with 38 points. You win the league by beating the ‘smaller’ teams as well.
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