Arsenal took just 15 minutes to send a definitive message to Alexis Sanchez – we don’t need you and are better without your disruptive influence.
Was this the message they actually meant to send? I don’t know, but I like to think that it was.
Going into the game, Arsenal had something of a attacker-crisis, what with Alexis Sanchez being somewhere between London and Manchester and Theo Walcott at Everton.
With Danny Welbeck injured and Aaron Ramsey ill, we went with Alex Iwobi, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere supporting Alexandre Lacazette. Mohamed Elneny came into the midfield alongside Granit Xhaka.
Laurent Koscielny returned to the defence, and lined-up in a back four with Shkodran Mustafi, Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah formed a youthful bench.
Crystal Palace turned up with a positive-looking side that Wilfried Zaha, Bakary Sako and Christian Benteke in a front three. Roy Hodgson went with a industrious midfield three of Yohan Cabaye, Luka Milivojevic and James McArthur protecting a back four.
A wet Emirates Stadium welcomed the sides as the fans geared up for an actual game of football amid all the transfer madness.
Arsenal’s first meaningful spell of possession resulted in a goal.
We worked the ball down the left side through Ozil. He flicked the ball back to Monreal, who laid it off for Iwobi to test Wayne Hennessey with a powerful shot. From the resultant corner, Monreal crept in at the back post and nodded us into the lead.
Forget all the new signings. All we needed was Nacho.
The early goal boosted the team’s confidence. The ball was pinged about in tight spaces while Monreal made the most of his return to left back by rocketing up the flank. It was he who drove in behind the Palace defence and pulled the back back for Iwobi to slide in and double Arsenal’s lead.
Arsenal just kept going forward, and on 12 minutes had another corner. Xhaka swung it in deep, Monreal got in round the back and knocked it back for Koscielny for an easy tap-in and 3-0.
Who knew that selling a few players would make us a better team?
Palace went through a brief period where they looked like a competent team, but with 22 minutes on the clock, they succumbed to another attack. The ball was zipped through the Palace midfield until Wilshere fed in Ozil. He back-heeled the ball into Lacazette, who swept the ball into the corner for a much, much needed goal.
With just over half an hour gone, the fun was curtailed slightly as the amazing Monreal had to be taken off. A goal and two assists in 30 minutes was an excellent day’s work from the Spaniard. Maitland-Niles came on in his place.
Palace finally eased their way into the game and threatened through their pacey wingers. Their expansive play earned them a couple of corners, but we managed to deal with them well enough.
The visitors continued to be generous and offer us all the time and space we needed in midfield. The midfielders took joy in picking though the numerous holes in the Palace defence and looked a threat with every attack. Without the ball, they were energetic and latched onto any loose pass or bad touch.
Of course, there were odd moments of sloppiness. Maitland-Niles played a poor pass into midfield that was picked up by Zaha. He teased Elneny and worked a bit of space to get a shot away from the edge of the D. It deflected just wide of the post for a corner.
That was it for the half’s entertainment. Arsenal were 4-0 up, kicking the ball around as if the ball itself was Alexis Sanchez. Palace needed a miraculous intervention during the break to turn this one around.
There were no changes at half-time from either side.
Palace started the second-half brightly and had most of the play in Arsenal’s half. They seized upon some sloppy passes and tried their luck from distance. One such effort forced a corner that Martin Kelly managed to divert towards goal. Fortunately, it was a weak effort that Cech smothered with ease. With 51 minutes played, Van Aanholt floated a cross to the back post that just eluded Zaha.
The poor start to the half continued when Lacazette was caught unnecessarily offside. Palace went forward with a long pass that should have been easy for Mustafi to deal with, but rather than head it away, he tried to cushion it back to Cech, not realising the keeper was off his line. It looped over his head and wide for another corner.
We at least still looked threatening in attack. Ozil’s quick pass set Iwobi away. He had the chance to square it for Lacazette, but opted to go for goal. Hennessey had no problems blocking the shot.
Palace were unquestionably the better team this half, and could have gotten a goal back. Sako escaped down the left hand and whipped in an early ball across the Arsenal penalty area. Benteke was unmarked, but finished like a striker who hadn’t scored in a long time.
With 70 minutes gone, it was time for Arsenal’s customary substitution. Reiss Nelson came on for his Premier League debut, replacing Mesut Ozil, who would be wrapped in cotton wool for Wednesday’s semi-final.
Palace got the goal their play deserved this half. An out-swinging corner from Cabaye was touched on Benteke to Milivojevic. The midfielder controlled it with his chest, swivelled and volleyed into the far corner for 4-1. An excellent finish from the Palace man, which would deny Petr Cech his 200th league clean sheet.
Arsenal responded with their own attack. Wilshere slid the ball through to Lacazette, but he couldn’t guide his left footed shot pass Hennessey.
We made our final sub by brining on Sead Kolasinac for Iwobi. The Bosnian played on the left of midfield, presumably to give Maitland-Niles extra protection against Zaha.
You’d think that’d be the other way around, but this is Arsenal 2018.
Mustafi then caught Cabaye on the back of his calf. The Frenchman stayed down as Arsenal player down. Despite the crowd urging the team to keeping going, Arsenal, ever the nice guys, put the ball out of play so Cabaye could get treatment.
In stoppage time, Arsenal worked the ball extremely well through the Palace defence. Lacazette and Xhaka combined down the left. The striker received it in a good position, but was scythed down by Tomkins. The ref saw no penalty.
That was the last major incident of the game which Arsenal wrapped up in the first half.
It was a much needed win for Arsenal with one or two reinforcements on the way ahead of a big game for the team this season.