Crystal Palace 0 – 2 Arsenal
0 – 1 Arteta 47 (pen)
0 – 2 Giroud 87
Sent Off: Mikel Arteta 65
Arsenal’s Premier League season refused to be derailed by the midweek defeat to Dortmund or poor officiating in south London. Crystal Palace toiled hard but shy of two quick-fire world-class saves, brought little threat to the Arsenal back four even after Chris Foy handed them a numerical advantage. Arsène will wait to find out what punishment awaits Arteta; he thinks it was an “accidental foul“. As grounds for appeal go, that will rank among the flimsiest used; there was nothing accidental about the incident, it was the act of the consumate professional.
By then Arsenal’s single goal advantage ought to have been double, perhaps Arteta might have been eyeing a hat-trick. Serge Gnabry was fouled in the first half, acknowledged by the referee and his assistant in the signal and award of a free-kick. Replays later showed the incident was clearly inside the Palace area and a penalty was the correct punishment. Fortunately neither of Foy’s mistakes proved costly in the final outcome of this match.
Arteta’s red card compounded a comedy of errors. Caught on the break, Marouane Chamakh obviously lulled Arsenal into a false sense of security. Maybe the players remembered how bad he was in training and switched off. Maybe they had forgotten how bad he was. Organisationally, several seemed oblivious to his presence before the ball found its way to him, particularly as he ambled toward the halfway line. Even so, the decision by Chris Foy was fundamentally wrong; it was too far from goal to be considered a genuine goalscoring opportunity. Palace had been closer to goal than that in the previous hour and not managed much on target; why, fifty yards from goal, were they suddenly considered a potent threat?
And it was Marouane Chamakh, for crying out loud.
The first forty-five minutes was for the most part forgettable. Having dominated opening exchanges, Arsenal set about probing Palace’s defences but were not creating many opportunities. Giroud had a couple of moments when he might have expected to do better, Ramsey at least forced Speroni into a save. There is no arguing that Palace are a poor side with Sunderland’s abject to the start saving their blushes. A couple of efforts directly at Szczesny summed up their efforts; for a home side coming off a drubbing at home and a change of manager it was understandable. Even so, Steve Parrish looked to avoid prolonging his agony by returning to his seat with the second half well under way and Arsenal’s lead established.
There were few complaints about the penalty which moved Arteta centre stage. Gnabry had cut inside and a clumsy challenge ended his attacking threat. Arsenal settled into their rhythm quickly after the interval, content to allow Palace more space following their early breakthrough, waiting for the moment to pounce. Giroud was once more at the centre of the chances created, Bacary Sagna providing a fruitful supply line. I wonder did Marouane Chamakh look on, convinced he would thrive with such service, in any way bitter about how his move turned out? Arsène certainly pushed the notion of a player whose confidence was destroyed by the competition for places whilst at the club; for a man who came to England having been a regular goalscorer in France, his is a game bereft of touch and composure.
With one extra player, Palace ought to have pushed harder than they did. Szczesny’s dynamic duo of saves from Ward and Jedinak were the brightest moments. Arsenal ceded possession for a while, sufficient space between the solitary figure of Giroud and his midfield support gave Palace opportunities to push but the visitors were more threatening. If Kieran Gibbs is the heir of Sansom and Cole, Nacho Monreal proved his lineage from Nigel Winterburn with an air shot following a marvellous dribble through the home defence. But the crucial difference came at the end of a spell where Arsenal’s final ball had been woefully chosen or executed. Aaron Ramsey’s enterprising run ended with a deft chip into the path of Giroud to head home; television replays captured Speroni’s concentrated grimace turning to despair as the ball travelled past his shoulder en route to the net.
In ordinary circumstances, criticism of Arsenal’s performance might hold water but these were far from ordinary. A team which is not used to losing had succumbed to defeat in the previous game. A home side reeling and in their shell, determined not to play football and fall into the trap of trying to outpass their technically superior opponents; I don’t blame Palace for that either as any point yesterday was a bonus. Numerically disadvantaged but with a lead to defend, Arsenal had scraps to feed off in the final twenty-five minutes. The preceding hour or so was about sapping their hosts’ morale. It was a performance which reminded me of the trip to Wigan last December; a match where hard work was made of an expected win but rarely in danger. It was a thoroughly professional outing.
Of course it wouldn’t be Arsenal without concerns arising, once more about injuries. Having returned to the side, Mathieu Flamini brought impetus to the midfield but is now going to be missing again. Nothing official yet but weeks and not days are being talked of. It will put more pressure on fatigued players and leaves Arsène with a headache for the coming spell of tough fixtures. Yet he has assembled a squad which should not be reliant upon one player and must cope with his absence in bigger games better than they did against Dortmund. The biggest impact might yet be seen in midweek for the League Cup visit of Chelsea to The Emirates. Mikel Arteta will not play and with Flamini absent, will he be tempted to push Thomas Vermaelen out of his central defensive comfort zone into central midfield – alongside Hayden perhaps – to bring some experience to proceedings?
Whatever the case, a clean sheet on their travels adds to the confidence growing around the Premier League campaign. That is leading to more understandable bullishness from the manager about the prospects for this season. Time will tell if it is misplaced confidence or inspirational belief.