Sunday, 27 October 2013

Palace 0-2 Arsenal: Below par, but who cares?

A sigh of relief echoed North London as Arsenal edged out Crystal Palace by winning 2-0 at Selhurst Park. It was a surprisingly poor performance from a team who are apparently challenging for the title, and one that shouldn't be repeated. Ever.

If Arsenal were facing any other team apart from Palace, they would've undoubtedly lost. Crystal Palace is arguably the worst team in the Premier League, and without any managerial stability, they were at their weakest point. Compare them to Arsenal, who are top of the pile, on a 7 match unbeaten run in the Premier League and playing a full strength squad. Yet we had to scrape past them and rely on a penalty and a header to get 3 points. I know I said earlier that "Results > Performances", but isn't it a good performance that leads to a good result?

I had said in the match preview that Wenger's failure to set his priorities and playing a full strength squad would lead him into trouble, and so it proved. Mathieu Flamini limped off the pitch in the 7th minute due to a groin injury, which will most likely rule him out of the next four games that may well define our season. Well played, Wenger.

His replacement, Serge Gnabry, did all right, at least better than the others. Santi was rusty, Ozil anonymous (he looks jaded), and Ramsey's solo playing angered me. For the last time, how can Wenger not notice Aaron not noticing his teammates?

For me, Olivier Giroud was the only player who was trying constantly to create chances and win half-balls for us in the first half. And while Arsenal overwhelmingly dominated possession, Palace's direct play and better chances ensured that they went into the dressing room as the happier of the two teams. Arsenal were actually lucky to go all square, and were left to thank Marouane Chamakh's comical miss.

A massive improvement was needed by the Gunners, but it was a stroke of luck that got us the lead. Gnabry, who had space in the box, feinted intelligently and invited Guedioura's reckless slide onto him. A fair penalty was given, which Arteta dispatched professionally. 1-0 to the Arsenal it was.

However, he turned from hero to villain in the space of 20 minutes, when he pulled down Chamakh and earned himself a red card. It was cowardly play from Chamakh, and while I agree it was a foul, it certainly did not merit a sending off, primarily because he wasn't denied a clear goalscoring opportunity.

However, the brilliance of the Arsenal team as a whole to contain a Crystal Palace assault quite calmly was a welcome sight to see. The old Arsenal, filled with teenagers and inexperience, would've crumbled at this game. They would've probably sulked over the red card and screwed up the match, leaving Wenger to hunt for excuses in the post-match conference.

Not this Arsenal. Bacary Sagna's brilliance and Szczesny's saves of the season, in particular was noteworthy in our attempts to preserve this lead. Granted, we needn't put ourselves in this position and should've had the game done and dusted in the first half. However, the experienced heads of Sagna, Nacho Monreal (who was impressive on the left wing) and Koscielny realized that this win would be a load off, and that 3 points - any 3 points - would be vital in the long run. It is said that title winning teams have a trait of grinding results when things aren't going their way. I'm glad we showed that trait today.

The game was over when Ramsey took the ball till their box, realized he couldn't go any further, and played it to Giroud to score an easy header goal. Ollie deserved that goal after another excellent all-around performance, and he is slowly becoming more and more influential in this Arsenal side. Credit to the players for holding on to another crucial win, and maintaining our two-point gap at the top.

Afterwards, Arsene said:

"It was not a game of brilliance but it was a game of efficiency and patience. For us it was about being patient and not making a mistake and we did that well. The pitch was a bit slow, maybe we were not the sharpest as well and the two together made us create less chances than we are used to but we were serious and determined."

We face Chelsea on Tuesday, which marks the beginning of a tough set of fixtures. I'll put a blog in tomorrow highlighting the factors that can affect our performances in the coming matches, but till then it's time to savour another important Arsenal win.

Hats off to the players, and especially the defenders, for managing to keep a rare clean sheet. Till tomorrow.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )