Arsenal kept pace with the sides above them in the league thanks to a comfortable win over Sam Allardyce’s Crystal Palace and Olivier Giroud’s wonder goal.
The biggest talking point when the team news was announced before the game was the absence of Mesut Ozil. He’s ill. No drama.
In all there were 3 changes from the side that beat West Brom 1-0 – Nacho replaced Kieran who’d Gibbs’d himself on Boxing Day while Mohamed Elneny came on for Francis Coquelin before jetting off for the Africa Cup of Nations.
It was a fast start from Arsenal and the template for the game was laid down early on. Palace had come, predictably, to sit back, try to soak up pressure and, if possible, hit on the break. It’s no wonder Allardyce has never won a game at Arsenal.
The Gunners could and should have been at least one up within the first minutes but Giroud missed a glorious chance to open the scoring and Elneny couldn’t keep his effort down on the follow up. Arsenal had been knocking at the Palace door since the game began, and they should have knocked it down before most people had finished their first pint.
Arsenal's back four completed more passes in the Crystal Palace half (9) than in their own (6) in the opening 10 minutes.
Tent pitched. pic.twitter.com/SNwZmylbTW
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 1, 2017
Palace time wasting began around the 12 minute mark, at least eight minutes before Tony Pulis’s West Brom, but their attempts were in vain as Arsenal were ahead in the most spectacular fashion just five minutes later.
A cross from Alexis was met by Olivier Giroud with his backheel in midair, the Frenchman’s scorpion volley flying past the Palace keeper, leaving everyone watching dumbfounded.
‘Oh my god, what was that’ was the response that greeted Giroud’s strike from Gary Neville, co-commentating on Sky Sports. He followed that with ‘I’ve got to say, that’s one of the best goals I’ve ever seen.’
Giroud has now scored 11 goals from his last 15 shots in all competitions.
The pace slowed after Arsenal took the lead which was frustrating. It’s at times like these that they should show their killer instinct and try to rock a team when they’re already wobbling. But they didn’t and one-nil was how it stayed until the break despite a couple of half chances.
So far this season Arsenal have been relatively sluggish after the break and if you look at their goal difference during a game, they hit negative numbers when you consider the first 15 minutes after the break. That could have been even worse had Christian Benteke taken his clear chance after only a few minutes but, thankfully, he put it narrowly wide.
But unlike in previous games, Arsenal were posing their own questions at the start of the second half too, Alexis leading the way with a couple of great efforts, one of which was blocked by an oblivious Scott Dan.
Arsenal made it two after 55 minutes, Alex Iwobi capitalising on some truly awful Palace defending to head into the roof of the net and make sure of the points for Arsenal with the first headed goal of his career.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Arsenal if things were simple, so after scoring their second they immediately allowed Palace to bombard Cech’s goal, forcing him into a string of saves and corner clearances. We held, but at times it seemed more through luck than a cohesive defensive plan.
A few half chances followed for Arsenal while Palace continued to offer little, but the scoring was done for the day with Iwobi’s goal.
There were certainly more goals in this game for Arsenal and questions should be asked as to why they took their foot off the accelerator so early after taking the lead. Spurs had scored four earlier in the day, helping them better Arsenal’s goal difference and things could be so tight at the end of the season that every goal might matter.
But they won, and that is paramount. Two in a row after the disappointments in Liverpool and Manchester.
The rest of January is set up perfectly to send Arsenal to Stamford Bridge brimming with confidence at the start of February.
If they want it to, that is, of course.