Crystal Palace 2-3 Arsenal: Sanchez double and an imperious performance from Wilshere ensure victory
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Arsenal triumphed 3-2 against South London rivals Crystal Palace at a noisy Selhurst Park on Thursday evening in front of a season’s best attendance 25,762.
Arsene Wenger and his side avenged their humiliating 3-0 defeat back in April when the Eagles defeated an appallingly awful Gunners.
A first half goal from Shkodran Mustafi in the 25th minute put the visitors 1-0 ahead after keeper Julian Speroni could only parry a left-footed strike from Alexandre Lacazette.
Arsenal could have gone 2-0 up after a flowing move which saw Alexis Sanchez feed Mesut Ozil only for Speroni to save from the German’s close range flick.
Roy Hodgson’s team levelled four minutes into the second half through former Spurs winger Andros Townsend after good work down the left flank from Wifried Zaha who eased past Calum Chambers.
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The Palace forward, who appears to have regained his mojo following a disappointing spell at Manchester United, crossed the ball into the box.
The ball should never have reached Townsend – another who must be scratching his head and wondering what happened to his youthful promise as his career has meandered down a cul-de-sac – with four Arsenal men in the middle.
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But they were static and marking space which allowed the former England man drive home past Petr Cech.
The old ground was rocking under floodlights on a raw winter’s night and fears rose of a second from Palace during a rocky five minutes for the Gunners.
Palace set an English football record by losing their first seven league games without even scoring a goal, yet went into this game unbeaten in eight matches which was their longest top flight run for 27 years. The upturn in form also moved them out of the relegation zone and into 16th place.
Hodgson conceded after the game this was the defining period in the match saying: “At 1-1 I thought we were playing well and we were on the front foot, but the second goal was so difficult – to go down 2-1 was a difficult task.”
It could have been so different if Chambers not blocked Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s attempt minutes later. It would have been interesting to see Arsenal’s reaction to falling behind at a crucial juncture. As it was, unlike last term they weathered the storm, and went 2-1 ahead in the 62nd minute through Alexis Sanchez.
Chambers played an aerial ball into the box. Sanchez headed it down to Lacazette who then teed Sanchez up to fire low past Speroni’s right hand. It was his fifth goal in his last nine Premier League matches and his 79th goal for the club.
Four minutes later the unsettled Chilean took an exquisite left-footed through ball from an influential Jack Wilshere in his stride before slotting past an onrushing Speroni to score.
Perhaps the wantaway striker could have taken a leaf out of long-serving Eagles clubman Speroni, who when told by Peter Taylor back in 2006 he was surplus to requirements simply worked harder in training, eventually proving his point by rising to become first choice keeper. 400 games later he’s still showing loyalty to the club.
Sanchez, of course, is not surplus to requirements, he simply wants to join Manchester City. The term ‘for better or worse’ doesn’t apply to this talented, but increasingly tiresome player who has sulked his way through this season after being denied a change of clubs during the August transfer window.
It is difficult to see him in a red and white shirt next season unless City produce a third kit mirroring the Gunners traditional colours.
The 29-year-old former Barcelona player may have showed just what the North Londoners will miss next term but his celebrations also showed how fractured the team spirt has become with his increasingly toxic influence.
For when he scored his second he ran to the travelling hordes of Arsenal fans, while imploring his team-mates to follow him in celebration. Not many did and there in a microcosm was why he has to be sold sooner rather than later. Because if a player refuses to subjugate his feelings for the betterment of the team then he is not a worthy team-mate.
The evident lack of enthusiasm from some of his team-mates in sharing his joy indicate a line has been crossed in which the vagaries of his volatile temperament are not tolerated as much as they were.
Palace could have pulled a goal back when substitute Bakary Sako fired a cross into the box where an unmarked Zaha – unsurprisingly, for Arsenal cannot defend – headed wide when it looked easier to score.
As it was James Tomkinson met an 89th minute corner to head home, making it 3-2. Arsenal held on but can they hold on to their players out of contract soon?
Wenger praised Wilshere after the match with the player insisting a ‘deal would get done’.
Sanchez is a different story altogether. The Frenchman who equalled Sir Alex Ferguson’s Premier League record of 810 matches in charge said afterwards: “I felt Sánchez was very good from the first minute. This kind of Sánchez is a great football player, as we know.
“That’s the kind of performance we want from him.”
Yes Arsene but for how much longer?