Arsenal overcame a stern challenge from Crystal Palace to bounce back from an opening Premier League defeat with a 2-1 victory at Selhurst Park. Already under pressure following a hugely disappointing 2-0 reversal at home to West Ham last week, Arsene Wenger required an immediate response to get an expected title challenge on track.
He eventually got it, but not without a scare or two from a fired-up and positive Palace side, who equalized Olivier Giroud’s superb opener through an equally fine strike from Joel Ward before the half-hour mark. Palace came inches away from taking the lead, too, when Connor Wickham struck a post in the second half. But it would be Damien Delaney who provided the game's decisive intervention, cruelly turning the ball into his own net as he tried to clear a header from Alexis Sanchez.
There was no question, though, that this was a much improved performance for Arsenal than the one produced a week earlier. And Sanchez was a big part of the reason why. Starting his first game of the season after returning late from his exertions at the Copa America, the Chilean typically set the standard for Arsenal with tireless harassing of his opponents. And, when his team were in possession, Sanchez’s lively movement meant Arsenal were much more free-flowing going forward, with Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey, in particular, benefiting from the presence of the former Barcelona man.
The only downside to Sanchez’s game was a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal in the first third of the contest, which prevented Arsenal from being out of sight before Palace snatched a surprise equalizer. Still, it was reward for Palace’s positive approach, and manager Alan Pardew has reason to believe that on another day it might have been his side leaving with all three points. As well as being denied by the woodwork, the former Newcastle boss rightly expressed his frustration that Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin was not shown a second yellow card for a patently deliberate foul at the end of the first half.
Crystal Palace’s desire to play out of the back and commit players forward, hinted at by an attack-minded midfield led by one-time Arsenal transfer target Yohan Cabaye, made it an enjoyable spectacle. It also gave Arsenal plenty of attacking opportunities. And on several occasions it required desperate rather than calculated interventions from Palace players to keep their opponents out.
After Giroud was the first man to taste disappointment when Palace got in a vital block, Sanchez will have twice been left wondering how he failed to open his account for the new campaign. Still before the 10th minute, two incisive breaks left Sanchez seemingly poised to score only to be denied, first by James McArthur and then by Pape Souaré.
But 16 minutes in Palace’s defenses were breached in spectacular fashion. It was another fine move from the visitors, culminating in a firm cross from the left by Ozil, which saw Giroud adjust his body excellently and stretch out a left boot behind him to expertly volley the ball into the corner of the net.
Arsenal soon could have extended their lead. Sanchez, having already had a shot kept out by goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, badly mistimed his leap from Nacho Monreal’s cross to head over the bar when the target should have been hit.
And Arsenal were made to pay for that profligacy in the 28th minute. Some nice combination play on the edge of the box resulted in McArthur helping the ball back to Ward, who hit a perfectly struck shot that zipped along the surface and past the despairing dive of Petr Cech into the corner of net.
While Arsenal were still setting the tempo, the goal provided fresh impetus for Palace to believe they could even go on and take all three points. Further encouragement was provided by continued signs that Arsenal’s defense, playing in front of their new goalkeeper, have yet to fully settle this season. That vulnerability came despairingly close to allowing Palace to go in front. Three minutes into the second half, Wilfried Zaha delivered a ball into the box and Wickham got in front of Hector Bellerin, but could only direct his half-volley against the upright.
And seven minutes later, Arsenal grabbed the winning goal. Palace’s goalscorer Ward was poorly beaten at the back post to allow Sanchez to get above him and head toward goal before Delaney left McCarthy with no chance.
Still it wasn’t straightforward and Arsenal became increasingly restrained as they attempted to reach the final whistle with their lead intact. Despite some nervy moments late on, they achieved their goal to get up and running for the new campaign and start to restore some of the ample positivity that surrounded the club before a trying opening weekend.