Arsenal back to winning ways

Arsenal will hope normal service has been resumed. Embarrassed by West Ham on the opening weekend, Arsène Wenger’s side vaulted an awkward hurdle here to kick-start their campaign proper and restore some early season equilibrium to their approach.

“To come away with three points is already a little bit of a turning point for us,” offered the Frenchman post-match, his relief all too obvious. “Losing would have been a big blow mentally.”

This was a gloriously open London derby against a Crystal Palace side whose attack-minded approach should thrill in the season ahead, particularly when their own creative talents have clicked properly into gear. But such an open, free-flowing contest was always likely to have Arsenal’s juices flowing. Allowed to play, Alan Pardew having opted against recalling the out-of-favour Mile Jedinak to anchor his midfield, the visitors rejoiced.

Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sánchez, restored after his exertions at the Copa América, all revelled where they had been so rusty at the Emirates Stadium the previous week as Arsenal whipped up the kind of upbeat tempo they had enjoyed in the spring, when, albeit in a game of catch-up, they had been the Premier League’s resurgent force. Pardew had watched their slack display against West Ham and had spied an opportunity. “But they were a lot more intelligent and sharp here than they were last week,” he said.

Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger was pleased with the ‘strong response’ on his side in their 2-1 victory against Crystal Palace.

That was to Palace’s cost. The home side’s back-line was permanently stretched, their own creative talents taking too many risks in areas of the pitch where they might have been better advised to be more agricultural. Such is the risk of a bold selection against potential title challengers. The game should have been settled in the opening quarter, so rampant were Arsenal as they poured through their opponents’ porous defence. By then they led by Olivier Giroud’s first goal in more than 10 hours of top-flight football, but should have been out of sight.

 

The tone had been set early when Yohan Cabaye’s volley at a corner was blocked on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area, with Cazorla, Özil and Sánchez subsequently sprinting downfield against backtracking opponents. Joel Ward dived in to block the Chilean’s first attempt, with James McArthur handily placed to clear the second from the goal-line.

Alex McCarthy saved smartly from Sánchez and Aaron Ramsey – he would repeat that trick late on to deny Cazorla – but was helpless for the visitors’ opener. Ward was culpable on that occasion, a heavy first touch presenting possession back to Sánchez who liberated Özil down the left. His cross was volleyed in acrobatically by the Frenchman.

Wenger would have been forgiven for assuming that would prove the prelude to a thrashing but Palace boast bite of their own these days. In spurning a central holding player, Pardew had urged Yannick Bolasie, Jason Puncheon and Wilfried Zaha to purr, that trio fed by the excellent McArthur and Cabaye in midfield.

Just before the half-hour mark Puncheon was permitted to drift infield from the left and float a pass beyond Nacho Monreal for Bolasie to chest down to McArthur. The Scot laid the ball off for Ward, seeking to atone for his earlier error, to fizz a glorious low finish across Petr Cech and into the far corner.

Momentum might have been theirs thereafter had the referee, Lee Mason, considered the petty foul committed by Francis Coquelin in first-half stoppage time worthy of a second booking in four minutes. Pardew, who had considered that offence “debatable”, made a beeline for the official at the break to insist the Arsenal midfielder could not escape a third offence, only for the Frenchman to avoid another caution having been penalised for a foul on McArthur. “I’d said [to Mason at the interval] that’s Coquelin’s last chance, he can’t afford to make another challenge, and he did,” said the Palace manager. “But [Mason] didn’t make the call. He should have been sent off. Our bench thought he should have gone. Their bench did too because they took him off.”

Against depleted opponents Palace might have thrived but, once Connor Wickham had thumped a close-range attempt from Zaha’s centre on to a post, Arsenal re-established their advantage. Héctor Bellerín ambled to the byline to clip over a centre for Sánchez, leaping above Ward, and the Chilean’s header down was inadvertently converted by Damien Delaney, stretching desperately to intercept.

“We have shown our strongest points, and different aspects of our game that are vital in this league,” said Wenger. “We had a good flowing game in the first half, and had to dig in and fight in the second part.” After last week’s traumas, the improvement was timely.

Man of the match Mesut Özil (Arsenal) – Guardian

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