Arsenal Vs Crystal Palace: Highlights and analysis – Clunky but sufficient

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Shkodran Mustafi of Arsenal (L) celebrates as he scores their first goal with Granit Xhaka during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Arsenal at Selhurst Park on December 28, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Shkodran Mustafi of Arsenal (L) celebrates as he scores their first goal with Granit Xhaka during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Arsenal at Selhurst Park on December 28, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images) /

Arsenal travelled to Crystal Palace on Thursday night as the festive period rumbled on. Here is the full recap, all the highlights and analysis from the 3-2 win

Other than five nervy minutes early in the second-half and a stupidly foolish late goal, Arsenal were surprisingly professional in their 3-1 win over Crystal Palace. Perhaps because of the threat posed by Wilfried Zaha, Arsene Wenger chose to return to a back-three system, with Calum Chambers introduced to sure up the defence. But in this game, it was the attack, not the defence that was so influential. Good performance, mostly. But a good win.

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The first half started with some fairly nervy moments. Arsenal played neat and tidy passes in midfield, without much direction or intention, while Palace fed on scraps at the other end. Wilfried Zaha did cause problems with his pace and purposefulness, driving forwards with the ball at his feet, skipping past defenders at real speed. But, for the most part, Arsenal were comfortable, and as the half progressed, their control on proceedings only grew.

Mesut Ozil’s influence on the game increased, playing Hector Bellerin into the right channel whose dangerous cross was not met by the run that it deserved, and Granit Xhaka skewed a shot straight down Julain Speroni’s throat after some sumptuous one-touch passing between Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Jack Wilshere and Sead Kolasinac. Ozil also had his own cross not met by the merited run; but with Palace’s continuous inability to maintain possession whenever they were able to get the ball, primarily because of the immediate pressure they were under and the position on the pitch that they were in, the pressure that Arsenal impressed on their hosts built and built.

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That pressure evidently paid dividends. Several poor clearances eventually fell to Alexandre Lacazette. His first effort to pull a pass back towards the edge of the penalty area was foiled. But in collecting the rebound, he was offered another chance. This time, he whipped a left-footed effort at the goal. Julian Speroni could only parry it clear, straight to the feet of Shkodran Mustafi who, instinctively and smartly, slotted the ball into the empty net.

The goal settled the Gunners; Ozil and Sanchez especially, began to purr. The two combined on two occasions later in the first half: Sanchez played a perfectly weighted pass into the surging Ozil, who could only poke his shot at the goal, which Speroni saved; Ozil and Sanchez played a delayed one-two on a blistering counter-attack that led to the German, in a similar circumstance as the previous attempt, choosing to pass on the stretch around the onrushing Speroni. The chance fizzled out.

Alexandre Lacazette also had a couple of opportunities, one that was especially well-worked on the edge of the penalty area, twisting and turning his way into a yard of space to get his shot away. But at the break, Arsenal only had a one-goal lead. Given the moments of danger that Zaha offered on the break, with his pacy and precise dribbling, coupled with his willingness to be direct and unassuming, it was not a comfortable one. It was a good performance, up until half-time. But there were moments of concern to be wary of in the second half.

Arsenal leapt out of the blocks in the second half. For 30 seconds. Alexis Sanchez clipped a nice pass in behind the Palace defence, but Hector Bellerin, who was bounding towards the ball, could not direct it past Speroni. Two minutes later, Palace were level and Arsenal were rocking.

Wilfried Zaha, who was Palace’s primary threat throughout, had a free run at Calum Chambers in the wide channel. He stood Chambers up, scampered towards the goal line, and pulled a dangerous low pass towards the penalty spot. With the Arsenal defenders painfully static, Andros Townsend bent his run inside, arching back to the ball, before bending his first-time shot into the bottom corner.

And then Arsenal, in true Arsenal fashion, went into utter meltdown. Hector Bellerin, Calum Chambers and Mesut Ozil all misplaced simple passes, Chambers also found himself isolated against Wilfried Zaha, which is never a nice place for a defender to be, while Rueben Loftus-Cheek and Jeffrey Schlupp both wasted good opportunities.

Thankfully for Arsenal, those wasted opportunities, and a few moments of calm and composed possession, they were able to slowly regain a foothold in the game. And that foothold led to two quickfire goals from Alexis Sanchez that all but ended the Palace revival.

The first came thanks to some tenacious and intelligent work from Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman battled his way through a wade of legs in the penalty area after some poor Palace clearances, choose, smartly, to tee up Sanchez, rather than take on an ambitious left-footed effort, who lashed home the shot at the near post.

The second came shortly after. It was a lovely, lovely goal: Jack Wilshere picks up the ball in midfield. With space and time to pick his pass, he looks up to see Sanchez searing in behind the Palace defence. Leaning back, like a quarterback in his vision and a pitching wedge in his distribution, Wilshere clips a perfect pass into the Chilean’s path. Using his thigh to collect the ball, Sanchez simply prods the ball past Speroni and into the bottom corner of the goal.

There were a few shaky moments to close out the game. Hector Bellerin got caught out on several occasions by Wilfried Zaha. The first came on a header at the back post that he was unable to get the desired connection on, with the ball hitting his should. Then he slipped in behind the Spaniard twice in quick succession, both times allowing him to flash crosses into the penalty area which were cleared somewhat desperately.

Palace did make the game interesting with a James Tomkins header from a corner, outleaping Laurent Koscielny to power it past Petr Cech’s left side. It seemed obvious that Arsenal would make this as hard for themselves as possible. Thankfully, they were able to see out the four added minutes and earn the three points.

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After only winning one game in their last five, this was an extremely important win for the Gunners. They had to work hard for it, especially in the second half. But, eventually, they got it. Just.