Arsenal survived being reduced to 10 men as well as a stirring performance from Crystal Palace to secure a hard-fought 2-0 victory at Selhurst Park and ensure they remain atop the Premier League table. Mikel Arteta struck the vital opening goal from the penalty spot just after half time, but was later sent off for hauling down former Gunner Marouane Chamakh when he was controversially adjudged to have denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity. Arsenal were then holding on as Palace threatened an equalizer, but the three points were secured when Olivier Giroud headed in with three minutes remaining.
Coming into the match without a manager and on the back of a humbling defeat, following Ian Holloway’s exit after Monday’s 4-1 loss to Fulham, Palace and caretaker boss Keith Millen deserve much credit for a hugely spirited display. Their organization and endeavor kept Arsenal quiet in the opening period, while they also caused the occasional threat themselves. It was only a reckless tackle from Adiene Guedioura on substitute Serge Gnabry that let them down and let Arsenal score.
The home side were certainly fortunate that referee Chris Foy decided to bring about a numerical advantage, but they showed intent to take advantage of it. Indeed, it was only the width of a cross bar and a sensational save from Wojciech Szczesny to deny Joel Ward and Mile Jedinak, respectively, that kept Arsenal in front before Giroud got a most welcome second goal late on.
From Arsene Wenger’s point of view, though, there is also much with which to be pleased. After their first defeat in two months against Borussia Dortmund, his side was given a test of character at Selhurst Park, especially when down to 10 men and coming under pressure. As they have done through much of this early season, it was one that they passed.
Arsenal’s possession stats were dominant throughout, but particularly in the opening 10 minutes when Palace barely saw the ball. Still, there was little space for the visitors to work in as Palace were well organized and intent on denying Arsenal space in the key central area around 30 yards from goal where their interplay can be devastating.
There was an early blow for Arsenal too when Mathieu Flamini, just eight minutes into his return from a concussion suffered last week, was forced off with an apparent groin injury. And as happened against both Norwich and Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal’s opponents found more space in which to operate in the combative midfielder’s absence.
Both Chamakh and Guedioura found room on the edge of Arsenal’s box to test Szczesny as Palace grew in belief as the half wore on. They came even closer to taking the lead when Barry Bannan curled a shot toward the far top corner and Damien Delaney was inches away from diverting it on target with his head.
Arsenal did occasionally sparkle with their quick interchanges to get in behind Palace. But from difficult angles, Santi Cazorla shot wide across goal, while Aaron Ramsey saw his fierce shot blocked by Julian Speroni.
Holloway’s former assistant Millen could not have asked for more from his side as they went into half time. But less than a minute after the interval, all of Palace’s hard work in the opening 45 minutes was undone by a moment of spectacularly ill-conceived defending. Guedioura was caught out by a simple check back down the right of the area by young Gnabry as he lunged in and took down the midfielder’s legs. A penalty was the only outcome. Arteta made no mistake from the spot, sweeping it into the corner to ease Arsenal’s tension.
From there, Arsenal will have expected to take control, but with 65 minutes gone there was a twist to proceedings. Palace broke and a ball over the top saw Chamakh in the clear just past halfway, with only the rather pedestrian Arteta seemingly to beat. The Spaniard appeared to block Chamakh off but, with the Moroccan striker still with so far to go before reaching the goal and with his touch having taken the ball wide, the decision to send him off was harsh.
The man advantage gave the hosts the opportunity and the confidence to get back into the game. And they came desperately close to doing do. Ward struck the cross bar from 20 yards out and then moments later from an almost identical position Jedinak produced as good a volley as he’ll probably ever strike, but Szczesny was equal to it with a stunning one-handed save.
But with Palace having exerted themselves for almost 90 minutes and now chasing a goal, Arsenal found space on the break to put the result beyond doubt. Ramsey again showed his quality by biding his time before producing a chipped ball for the on-rushing Giroud, who headed down into the net to send palpable waves of relief through his side and especially to Wenger on the sidelines.