Arsenal travelled the short distance to face London rivals Crystal Palace in their second fixture of the new campaign knowing they needed a response after a frustrating 2-0 home defeat at the hands of West Ham on the opening weekend last time out.
They did just that, in a hard-fought victory with a welcome win for Wenger’s men; Olivier Giroud and an own goal stemming from Alexis Sánchez’s effort culminated in a narrow two-one scoreline.
Mesut Özil was the star of the show as he orchestrated proceedings from midfield and showed both composure and pure quality to drive attacks forward with pace and ingenuity.
Arséne Wenger made two alterations to the starting eleven as Hector Bellerín and Alexis Sánchez returned to the fray after respective knocks in recent weeks for the duo.
It was indeed Arsenal, who started brightly; which was eerily similar to their loss at the hands of West Ham in truth. Olivier Giroud and Alexis both came close on separate occasions early in the first ten minutes, and they boasted the lion’s share of possession with an impressive 70% from the off-set.
James McArthur made a vital goal-line clearance to deny the exciting Chilean after his initial effort was blocked, and the hosts were lucky not to be behind as Arsenal cranked up the pressure.
They had nothing to show for it though, until the 15th minute as they took the lead in some style. An acrobatic effort from Giroud, latching onto Mesut Özil’s fizzed ball sent the ball nestling into the bottom corner – although Palace goalkeeper Alex McCarthy would have been disappointed not to save the Frenchman’s strike.
Palace are known for posing a threat on the counter attack, and they did just that to level shortly before the half-hour mark. Out of seemingly nothing, Yannick Bolasie chested the ball down perfectly on the edge of the area for McArthur – who passed the ball backwards into the path of full-back Joel Ward. The defender instinctively struck with no hesitation, and watched on with relief as his shot rifled low into the bottom corner of the net, out of Petr Cech’s reach.
Tempers began to flare with tensions rising as the score was level once more, and it seemed as though Arsenal’s momentum had been suddenly zapped away from them in a devastating instant. Aaron Ramsey’s audacious flick from the near post was beaten away by McCarthy whilst the Eagles were pinned back into their own half rather frequently with Sánchez, Özil, Giroud and Ramsey all attempting to combine and push them in-front once more.
Francis Coquelin was given the game’s first yellow card for a tactical sliding challenge on Bolasie, as the DR Congo international was speeding away on the break. A cynical foul that had to be committed, the Frenchman had no complaints with the referee’s decision in truth.
He was arguably lucky not to be sent his marching orders in stoppage time, coincidentally. A clumsy tumble into Wilfried Zaha, with full momentum, sent the winger to ground and after a few seconds of thinking time the referee decided against sending the Frenchman off – despite the home supporters reacting angrily to that.
At the interval the scores were level, and Alan Pardew’s side would have no doubt been the happier side going into the break. Arsenal had dominated for large periods, especially in the chances department, but had no lead to show for it.
As the second-half began, Palace made one alteration; Jordon Mutch replacing Bolasie as they searched for the all-important goal to push them in-front. They came narrowly close to doing that, too. £9m summer signing Connor Wickham saw his half-volley effort from close range cannon back off the post just two minutes into the second 45 after Zaha’s floated delivery from the flank into his path.
Arsenal did well to up their game going forward as the clock continued to tick by, and luck was in their favour in the 55th minute as Damien Delaney’s unfortunate flick on from Sánchez’s effort goalwards flashed past McCarthy into the roof of the net.
Back in-front, and it was arguably deserved. The question remained, how would they deal with it? Would they sit back and defend the lead against an ever-dangerous Palace side, or press for a killer goal?
They did both, in equal measures. Coquelin was lucky not to be sent off, but for the leniency of referee Lee Mason who gave the 24-year-old the benefit of the doubt despite warning him.
It was a good decision then, that Arsenal made their first change of the game with half-an-hour to play. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fresh from celebrating his 22nd birthday the day before, was introduced into the game’s action as the robust Frenchman was taken off, to a chorus of boos from the home supporters no less.
Alexis Sánchez was conserved after an encouraging 75-minute shift, being replaced by Mikel Arteta whilst Kieran Gibbs was brought on in a defensive alteration for Mesut Özil – substitutions galore as time was ticking away in Palace’s search of a late, last-gasp equaliser.
Then with just a few minutes to play, Arteta made an important interception to dispossess substitute Lee-Chung Yong as the South Korean midfielder was advancing towards goal unopposed and shaped to shoot.
Despite some late pressure though, Arsenal came out on-top to record their first victory of the season, a much-needed one after last week’s disappointments.
Arsenal boasted almost over 200 passes to their London rivals, and frankly, it was a deserved three points despite having to graft to get it.
A morale-boosting win for their fans and most importantly, silencing the critics who suggested they couldn’t grind out victories against tough opposition. Liverpool at home, next Monday.