Starting XI: Cech, Chambers, Koscielny, Mustafi, Bellerin, Xhaka, Wilshere, Kolasinac, Ozil, Alexis, Lacazette
Subs: Ospina, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Coquelin, Iwobi, Welbeck, Walcott
Alexis Sanchez was the star as Arsenal closed the gap on the top four to one point with a 3-2 win against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Shkodran Mustafi kept his cool to slot home the opener from a tight angle in a dominant first half. Andros Townsend converted Wilfried Zaha’s cross just after the break as the home side briefly wrestled back the momentum before Sanchez came to the fore. First the Chilean hammered home at the near post after good work by Lacazette, then, put through by Wilshere, he slotted past Speroni again.
There was a late scare when Tomkins headed home with a minute remaining but Arsene Wenger, equalling Sir Alex Ferguson’s record for matches managed, wasn’t to be denied the points. His side move level on points with Sp*rs but remain in sixth.
Undefeated in eight games, their longest Premier League unbeaten stretch, Palace came into the game full of confidence. You got the feeling, judging by the noise coming from the terraces, that their fans obviously fancied a visit from Arsene Wenger’s men. Perhaps the memories of April’s 3-0 win against the Gunners, who were booed from the field that night, were still fresh in the memory.
As it turned out, Arsenal started and played throughout the first half like they had a point to prove.
Initially, the home side were full of attacking. Cabaye fancied his luck from outside the box with a couple of efforts from range on 11 and 15 minutes. The first flew over the bar, the second slipped just past Cech’s right-hand post. Unsurprisingly, Zaha, playing on the left of the Palace front three, was eager to test Calum Chambers on his first Premier League start in an Arsenal shirt since 2016. For the most part, the centre back held up fine.
The storm weathered, the Gunners moved up the gears as they looked to make the most of their lion’s share of possession.
We were neat and tidy in possession with Wilshere, Ozil and Alexis pulling the strings in the final third. Clear-cut chances were hard to come by, although Xhaka, who’d fired from long tange just on 9 minutes, did see a fine opportunity blocked at close range on 19 minutes. As the play continued to unfold, another chance fell Wilshere’s way and he shot straight at Speroni.
It felt like a goal was coming for the visitors. And sure enough, on 25 minutes, it did. After Palace half cleared an Arsenal free-kick, lofted into the box by Wilshere, the ball fell to Lacazette on the right side of the box. The France international curled an effort goalwards that Speroni palmed straight into the path of Mustafi, who calmly tucked home first time. (1-0)
Were it not for a fine save by Speroni, the Gunners would have had a second on 30 minutes. Somehow the Argentine managed to stop a toe-poke from Ozil, fed by a brilliant Sanchez through ball, from squeezing in.
Earlier in the week, Arsene Wenger had lamented his side’s profligacy in front of goal. It was a problem that they continued to wrestle with at Selhurst Park. Lacazette made room for himself with quick feet but having done the hard work he couldn’t get his low drive on target. Not long after a brilliant counter-attack saw Ozil put through, but when one-on-one with Speroni he passed square and the move broke down.
The Gunners started the second half as they finished the first, by squandering a chance. An Alexis ball, curled with his right foot from the angle of the area, found Hector Bellerin darting in at the far post. The Spaniard couldn’t get any purchase on his shot, it appeared to come off his heel, allowing Speroni to pounce.
It felt like a costly miss when, against the run of play and with their first shot on target of the evening, Palace equalised. Zaha dragged Chambers to the touchline, pulled the ball back to the penalty spot where Andros Townsend met the ball on the run to sweep home. The Arsenal defence was completely static. (1-1)
The momentum immediately swung in the home side’s favour. For five minutes the Eagles were untouchable. Zaha fired at Cech. Schlupp hit the side netting. Loftus-Cheek opened up his body but couldn’t find any whip and shot wide. The men in black were chasing shadows.
It took a while for the Gunners to get back in the groove, but they did in style. On 62 minutes, Alexis thrashed home from eight yards after brilliant play by Lacazette who held off a man and teed up the Chilean after Chambers had dropped the ball in the Palace box. (2-1)
Three minutes later, the Gunners had a third. Again it was Sanchez. This time the Chilean latched on to a beautiful quarterback style pass from Wilshere, took a touch to control and calmly slotted past Speroni. (3-1)
Looking to close the game out, Wenger opted to replace Lacazette with Coquelin. The striker didn’t look too pleased as he once again failed to complete 90 minutes for his new club. On the break, Bellerin, a fantastic outlet all night on the right, forced Speroni into a save as Arsenal hunted a fourth.
Palace rallied. The ball was driven low into the Arsenal box on numerous occasions. It was scrambled clear, time and time again. Zaha should have reduced the deficit with his head, but put his effort wide with his shoulder. Sako, on as a sub, then hit high and wide. The striker, a real physical threat, then had an effort deflected just wide on 88 minutes. The home side’s pressure finally paid dividends as Tomkins headed home the resultant corner. (3-2)
Four minutes of stoppage time were greeted with roars from the home crowd but the Gunners held their nerve.