Arsenal travelled to Selhurst Park on Saturday knowing that they were in for a tough afternoon despite not having lost there since 1979.
Bringing Nacho Monreal back into the side for Kieran Gibbs and Calum Chambers for the injured Hector Bellerin, Arsenal were second best throughout the first half but managed to go in at the break with the lead thanks to Santi cazorla’s sixth minute penalty and Olivier Giroud’s stoppage time second.
In truth, Arsenal were more than a little fortunate.
Mark Clattenburg, as we predicted, was lenient and tried to let the game flow, and along with his assistants got most of the key decisions wrong, the majority of which went in favour of Arsenal apart from Mesut Ozil’s goal which was wrongly ruled out for offside.
The penalty itself, awarded after Danny Welbeck was fouled after some excellent pressing, was just outside the box. In real time it did look as if it was inside so I can understand why the linesman and Clattenburg signalled for the spot kick.
Would I feel they same if it had went against us? Probably not.
In a half where Palace pressed Arsenal all over the pitch, Arsenal struggled to find any rhythm, only edging possession and making mistimed tackles as they struggled to cope with Palace when they moved the ball quickly. Francis Coquelin was fornuate to remain on the pitch for what were, at best, two yellow-card challenges and at worst one red and one yellow. Nacho Monreal was also fortunate to escape the half without making his way into the referee’s notebook.
As the half wound to a close, Welbeck grabbed himself another assist as his shot was parried straight on to the toe of Olivier Giroud. It was very harsh on Palace, especially when replays seemed to show that Welbeck was offside.
It was also very lovely.
Palace came out flying for the second half and Arsenal struggled to clear the ball, conceding corners which they were less than convincing at defending.
As the second half took a similar path to the first, despite all Palace’s intentions, it was Arsenal who almost grabbed the next goal as they managed to spring a break.
Ozil, with the freedom of the Palace half, waited for a runner and as Alexis Sanchez whizzed past him, the German played the perfect pass only to see the Chilean poke it narrowly wide.
More frantic, yet oddly effective, defending followed from Arsenal, somehow always managing to deal with the danger while seemingly lodged in panic-mode. David Ospina was rarely called upon.
Palace’s decision making in the final third helped.
With 15 minutes left, Wenger made his first changes, introducing Tomas Rosicky and Kieran Gibbs for Welbeck and Ozil, a move clearly designed to try and secure the result and the cleansheet.
It almost worked perfectly and as Palace made changes to chase the game, Arsenal found more opportunities to break, squandering a couple of good opportunities.
A final change from the boss with injury time plus a couple remaining saw Gabriel replace Alexis for his Premier League debut. From having only one fit defender earlier in the season, Arsenal finished the game against Palace with five on the pitch.
The first real save Ospina had to make came in the 93rd minute from a wayward cross and Arsenal finally wobbled a bit too much with a minute remaining of injury time as they conceded from a Palace corner. They then almost threw it all away as Palace hit the post with just seconds remaining.
Defending, clinical finishing, and a few calls from the referee being the difference between the sides.
It was an odd game.
While Arsenal were clearly not at their best up top or, more importantly, at the back, it was never a game that inspired the usual feelings of dread that can come with Arsenal when this happens.
They never seemed in danger of losing the points until the last 30 seconds when they went all Arsenal on us.
Perhaps it was the fact that they were clearly working for each other, even if it wasn’t always coming off in the manner which they intended.
It was a win that was ground out rather than crafted and every player gave everything despite it being ‘only Palace‘.
What a difference that made.
Oh, and thanks Mark. Appreciate the help!