Arsenal back on top as Oxlade-Chamberlain dazzles Palace

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Arsenal have returned to the top of the Premier League for at least 24 hours thanks to a diligent, efficient 2-0 win against a stubborn Crystal Palace, with a double sprinkling of star quality from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain enough to make the difference at the Emirates.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was back in a Premier League starting XI at the Emirates for the first time since August, finally free from injury and featuring in a deeper central midfield role that many observers feel will be his best position moving forward, thanks to a potent mix of pace, power and technical excellence.

The Gunners had to wait some time before Oxlade-Chamberlain was given the freedom to make his mark though, frustrated early on by a Palace side who look more confident, organised and above all spirited under the leadership of Tony Pulis.

Arsene Wenger's men dominated possession but lacked a creative spark for much of the first 45 minutes, with Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla regularly drifting in off the flanks and leaving the Gunners crying out for width in advanced areas.

A deep Palace rearguard looked largely comfortable throughout the opening half despite the best efforts of Cazorla, who continues to outshine Mesut Ozil as the most effective source of creative impetus for the title challengers since Christmas.

The best opening of the first period came from a set piece, with Laurent Koscienly's flick header towards the far corner parried to safety by a strong stop from Julian Speroni.

Palace meanwhile used the stature of ex-Gunner Marouane Chamakh and pace of Yannick Bolasie to buy their back four welcome breathers, while the robust efforts of Mile Jedinak broke up play on more than one occasion.

Thoughts of prolonged Arsenal frustration at the break were shortlived though, as the hosts broke the deadlock just a minute after the interval.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was the scorer from close range but much of the credit must go to Cazorla, who shimmied into a central area before picking out Chamberlain's late run with a precise chipped pass to the far post that oozed class.

England's young lion did the rest from close range, taking his time before cutely looping an effort beyond Speroni unopposed for his first goal of the season.

Home celebrations were nearly dampened almost instantly though as the linesman kept his flag down for a Palace break, which saw Bolasie's header fly across the box into the path of Cameron Jerome.

From there Jerome looked destined to finish at the far post, but his downward effort lacked power and from point-blank range was blocked behind for a corner by Wojciech Szczesny.

After taking the lead Arsenal failed to kick on and make the game safe, with Palace invited to attack in greater numbers following the addition of creative midfielder Barry Bannan just before the hour.

A reshaped Arsenal midfield featuring Cazorla on the right flank couldn't quite find their fluency in possession, despite Podolski carrying a threat with direct running on the opposite wing.

Podolski was replaced by Tomas Rosicky 18 minutes from time and shortly after that substitution Arsenal got the second goal that took the sting out of any Eagles revival.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was again the man who did the damage, exchanging a neat one-two with Olivier Giroud before drifting off the left flank towards goal with unnerving ease.

From there the finish never looked in doubt, with Speroni flying to his far corner in vain as Oxlade-Chamberlain's measured finish found the target.

It was a day to remember for the 20-year-old, who after five months on the sidelines gave the Emirates crowd and England boss Roy Hodgson a timely reminder of his raw talent just when Arsenal started to look a little flat.

Wenger must also be delighted to have a midfield option getting back towards full tilt as Arsenal gear up for a fearsome run of February fixtures which will go a long way towards defining their season, as Liverpool, Manchester United and Bayern Munich lie in wait in quick succession across three competitions.

For now though it's time for Wenger's men to sit back and see what Manchester City and Chelsea have to offer tomorrow night, safe in the knowledge they are back in the ascendancy and ready to stay in this title race for the long haul.

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