Arsenal Vs Crystal Palace: Highlights and analysis – Elegantly blistering display

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 20: Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his sides third goal with Granit Xhaka of Arsenal and Shkodran Mustafi of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Crystal Palace at Emirates Stadium on January 20, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 20: Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his sides third goal with Granit Xhaka of Arsenal and Shkodran Mustafi of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Crystal Palace at Emirates Stadium on January 20, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) /

Arsenal hosted Crystal Palace on Saturday afternoon as the Premier League rumbled on. Here is the full reap, all the highlights and analysis of the 4-1 win.

Arsene Wenger welcomed back a number of key players from injury. It made a difference. Arsenal played some wonderfully calm and creative football to carve open Crystal Palace on a slick Saturday afternoon at the Emirates. The 4-0 scoreline was indicative of everything you needed to know: sharp, fluid, dynamic football from the hosts; a passive, anaemic, absent showing from the visitors. This was the perfect result and performance for the Gunners. But the hard work starts now.

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Arsenal enjoyed a thoroughly perfect start to their afternoon. While Crystal Palace were actually able to force their way into some advanced positions during the opening few stanzas of play, but lacked the quality of the final pass or shot to ever trouble Petr Cech, it was Arsenal that were three goals to the good after just 13 minutes. In all honesty, though, they did not have to work hard for them.

The first was extremely simple. After neat work from Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi resulted in Wayne Hennessey tipping over his shot for a corner. Granit Xhaka floated it in and Nacho Monreal, utterly unmarked, standing five-yards from goal as he curls around the far post, simply planted the header past the Welsh shot-stopper, who was caught stranded under the ball, tangled by his own defender. It was terrible defending from Palace, something that Roy Hodgson, a manager who acutely understands the value of set plays, will have greatly lamented.

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The second goal came just four minutes later. Some smart interplay between Granit Xhaka, who was oddly playing in a freer, more advanced position with Mohamed Elneny anchoring the triumvirate alongside Jack Wilshere, Alex Iwobi and Alexandre Lacazette resulted in a scuffed Palace clearance. A surging Nacho Monreal collected the loose ball, drove to the byline before taking his time to pick out Iwobi with a fizzed cutback. Iwobi, smartly, used the pace of the cross to his advantage, and just deflected the ball into the goal.

The third was extremely reminiscent of the third, which will only compound Hodgson’s irk. Another Granit Xhaka corner; another Nacho Monreal run around the far post, this time volleying the ball back into the six-yard box for Laurent Koscielny to bundle it over the line. Another Arsenal goal. It was a pattern that was beginning to look a little predictable, even if the home side did not have to do much to enjoy their somewhat substantial advantage so early on.

Indeed, with the game seemingly already won, it was at this point that Arsenal settled into their game. In particular, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere started to shimmer with silky, slaloming play. Neat reverse passes, cute touches and flicks, elegant movement, interchangeable, fluid positions. It was wonderful to watch.

The fourth goal came soon after in another lovely free-flowing move. Ozil dropped deep to collect the ball, around 35 yards from goal, slighted to the left side of the centre of the pitch. A quick one-two with Iwobi glided him past one defender, with an ever-so-subtle first touch leaning his way around a futile challenge. Another one-two, this time with Wilshere, saw him dissect another two Palace defenders. Now on the edge of the area, the cogs started whirring. Aware of Alexandre Lacazette’s peeled-off position, Ozil flicks the ball off his heel, positioned perfectly for the Frenchman to swish his right foot through the ball, angling it into the far corner with power and precision.

The game, at this point, was finished. Palace’s disinterest only waned further, unmoved by the apparent competition of the fixture. They were passive and apathetic, lacking any semblance of passion or grit or will or perseverance. They didn’t want to be there and it was painfully obvious. Bakary Sako and Wilfried Zaha did flash shots at the Arsenal goal, the latter of which was dangerously deflected wide of the post. But, for the most part, Arsenal could do what they liked, enjoying ample time and space, especially in midfield zones.

The only sour note of the first 45 minutes for the Gunners was the withdrawal of Nacho Monreal. He had just returned from an ankle injury, clutched his hamstring as he walked off the pitch, Ainsley Maitland-Niles introduced in his stead, and was seemingly immediately back to his experienced and composed best with a dazzling early display. It seemed as though the substitution was as much a precaution as anything else, with a relaxed feel among the players, coaches and Wenger. Let’s hope that’s true because, if so, this was truly the perfect first half.

The second half, in all honesty, was very boring. Arsenal were extremely sloppy in the first five minutes of the restart, losing possession far too easily, gifting Palace with underserved openings. But a genuine chance was not ever fashioned — Petr Cech certainly never really looked troubled –, and after Arsenal gathered themselves with a few extended periods of possession in midfield, the game settled down into its usual pattern.

The Gunners, though, did not really go chasing for extra goals. Alex Iwobi did have an excellent opportunity after getting on the end of a blistering Arsenal break fed by an inventive Mesut Ozil through pass, to say the least, placing his shot straight into the body of the onrushing Wayne Hennessey when he would have been better squaring a pass for Alexandre Lacazette. But Arsenal did not impress themselves on their visitors like they did in the first half. The points were safe. That, in the end, was all that mattered.

Palace did get a late consolation goal, one that they perhaps deserved with an improved second-half performance. Christian Benteke, who should have scored earlier, seeing his one-on-one opportunity squandered by a sound, sprawling Petr Cech save, rose highest at a corner, and as his header fell to Luka Milivojevic, the Serbian chested it down, span, and volleyed a shot into the far bottom corner of the goal. It was, in all fairness, a lovely finish, but it had little influence on the result.

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This was a lovely performance and result for Arsenal. They were certainly helped significantly by some poor Palace defending. But the three points, the get-right display, and the refreshing atmosphere that exudes through the Emirates is most welcome indeed.