Contrary to most pre-match opinions, this actually turned out to be a competitive fixture and the result was in the balance until the last few minutes. This was largely due to a lacklustre display from Arsenal, good old fashioned hard work from Palace and a dodgy sending off.
I can’t make my mind up whether Arsenal’s first half showing was down to fatigue, complacency or a bit of both. What is certain is that when presented with a massed defence intent on clogging up the areas you like to play pretty football in, the only way to break it down is to move the ball with speed and intelligence. Quick one-twos, willing movement and a lively tempo are the order of the day, but Arsenal played a casual game of keep ball for 45 minutes, not even managing a shot on target so ineffective was their attacking play.
It didn’t help losing Flamini so early on, even against a side who were never going to attack us much. That’s because he not only gives the defence vital cover, he also zips around the turf throwing himself into challenges and hassling opponents, automatically raising the tempo of our game. Tempo was something which was sorely lacking.
I don’t think Arteta would’ve been sent off had Flamini been on the pitch either. To allow a breakaway from our own corner leaving Arteta against Chamakh was criminal. It was a shocking piece of defensive play from Wenger’s team, despite the fact the red card was harsh. Not only was Arteta’s clash with Chamakh more of a coming together than a foul by the Spaniard, Chamakh had also clumsily knocked the ball down the channel instead of towards goal, allowing Koscielny to come around on the cover, and was still a long way from goal.
Thankfully by that stage we were 1-0 up thanks to Arteta’s cool finish from the spot after Gnabry was felled in the area straight after the restart. We had immediately upped our game, hopefully after a stiff talking to from the boss, who can’t have been happy with the first half snooze-fest.
Giroud should’ve added a second when he missed a simple header from Sagna’s cross, but that apart we didn’t really look like scoring. Once Arteta was in his early bath though, we needed Szczesny to be on top form as he pushed one shot onto the bar and was quickly in position to palm another piledriver away for a corner as Palace sought an unlikely equaliser.
The game was put beyond doubt in injury time when Giroud (who worked hard all game and is in desperate need of a deserved rest) nodded home Ramsey’s clever dinked pass. Job done, but not in the manner many had predicted.
Today reminded me so much of our run in last season, when we were grinding out victories without playing particularly well. There are two ways to look at this — either it’s positive to win when not at your best, or it’s negative because play like that against Chelsea, Liverpool, Dortmund and Manchester United and we’ll be staring at four defeats on the spin. I think both trains of thought are valid.
We play the four matches I mentioned above in the next 15 days, at the end of which we’ll know just how improved Wenger’s side really are from last season. I feel we are heading in the right direction at last, but the league table paints a misleading picture on this display.
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