Arsenal were left hanging on, but moved up to third place in the Premier League thanks to a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. The decisive goals came at either end of the opening half, with Santi Cazorla sliding home a penalty after Danny Welbeck had been tripped by Palace debutante Pape Souaré, before Olivier Giroud snapped up the rebound following Welbeck’s saved effort.
It wasn’t until the fourth minute of injury time that Palace finally got the goal their share of the contest warranted, when Glenn Murray fired home after a six-yard box scramble. It could have been so much more for Alan Pardew’s men and Arsenal will head home mightily relieved, especially after Murray headed against the post with a chance to equalize in the final seconds.
Typically roared on throughout by their enthusiastic home support, Palace applied strong pressure to Arsenal’s backline for long periods, and, in particular, Wilfried Zaha caused Nacho Monreal to have one of his tougher 90 minutes in a long time. But while the hosts, as has been the case through much of the season, were lacking an end product, Arsenal were clinical in punishing them at the other end.
The big mistake came from Souaré. Just seven minutes into his first appearance since joining from Lille on the final day of the January transfer window, the Senegalese full-back fatally dallied on the ball on the edge of his own box, inviting the quick Welbeck to steal in. In a desperate attempt to recover, Souaré tripped the Arsenal forward, and, while the initial contact may have been a fraction outside of the box, a penalty was a decision hard to dispute. Cazorla, praised by his manager for his key influence in recent weeks, confidently sent Julian Speroni the wrong way from the spot.
What turned out to be a decisive second blow arrived two minutes into first-half injury time. Alexis Sanchez supplied a well-weighted through ball for Welbeck, whose effort across goal was blocked by Speroni, but only as far as Giroud. The Frenchman reacted quickest to poke the ball home and continue his own recent impressive run of form, with an eighth goal in his last 11 matches. And by the time Palace started to find a telling final ball and a cutting edge, it proved too little too late.
In between the two Arsenal goals, Arsenal spent plenty of time defending, with full-backs Monreal and Chambers given an especially tough time. Former Manchester United winger Zaha was full of trickery, but was unable to supply a killer pass. In the second half, Palace’s pressure even increased in intensity. And there was a growing whiff of desperation about some of Arsenal’s defending as Zaha and Jason Puncheon just failed to get shots on goal from close range.
With Sanchez missing a chance to kill the game when put through by Mesut Ozil after a lightening break, Arsene Wenger sought extra security by brining on Kieran Gibbs and Tomas Rosicky for the more attack-minded Ozil and Welbeck in the final 15 minutes. But the changes couldn’t stop Palace from finally breaking through. After Zaha had another shot blocked, it was substitute Murray who produced a decisive final touch.
But the striker, who finished top scorer when Palace were promoted two seasons ago, will rue failing to equalize seconds later. David Ospina was caught out from a cross, but Murray’s header came back off the post. While far from comfortable, the result could be vital for Arsenal. It takes them above Manchester United and, at least temporarily, ahead of Southampton, who host Liverpool on Sunday.
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