A well taken second half brace by the deserved man of the match Alex Oxlade Chamberlain took three points off a hard-working, but fairly uninventive Palace side in the first game of a packed February fixture list for the Good guys of Ashburton Grove.
Buoyed by the sight of the ‘dippers dropping two points at the Baggies, courtesy of a Toure clanger (“Kolo is a Gooner” was sung in the pre match drinking bar with gusto”), the arrival of Tony Pullis’s (yes, HIM again) Palace was an opportunity for the Arsenal to extend the lead over fourth place Liverpool and put pressure on the Oil Slick teams ahead of their Monday match, the battle of the sugar daddies.
The mood of the crowd was a little subdued, partly as Crystal Palace are a team who are hard to get excited about and the lack of a transfer signing of note to get the crowd buzzing. As usual Red Action were passing a banner around the North Bank end, a nice spectacle and a worthy attempt to generate some pre match atmosphere in my opinion.
The only selection latitude Wenger had today was in the choice of left back so Nacho Monreal was given the starting berth over Gibbs.
Taking my usual spot behind the goal at the clock end I was close to the away supporters and quickly it became apparent they were one of those sets of fans who need a drum to keep their singing going.
Which prompted the Clock End to ask:
“Who’s the w****r, who’s the w****r, who’s the w****r with the drum?”
Not only was the incessant thwacking of the bass drum annoying, but it made me think perhaps the Club had missed a trick by allowing them permission to bring a drum in. Why help the away support to create a better atmosphere for their players to the detriment of the home team?
The opening minutes of the game confirmed what I suspected that for all the talk of Pullis making Palace a better side it was 10 behind the ball for nearly all the time and packing the midfield.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a team with so little attacking intent or creativity and one quite happy just to play a deep line and have no forward ambition. Yes, Palace worked extremely hard but after that there was nothing, nearly all forward forays ended in misplaced or overshot passes betraying a paucity of attacking talent.
For The Arsenal Santi was a live wire and buzzing with energy and forward drive and as I had been reading about Podolski’s laziness after the Saints game I kept an eye out for his off the ball work rate. To my eyes there was nothing wrong with the work rate Lucas offered and his direct runs were an effective contrast to the intricate passes Özzy, Santi, Olly and the Ox were offering up in the final third.
An early Monreal cross shot was followed up by free kick chances served up by Özzy and Santi as the Arsenal’s strength, the creative midfield, exerted it’s superiority over a palpably inferior Palace midfield.
Nil nil at half time and muted cheers for the effort expended by the boys in red and white, no panic yet.
Arsenal started the second half at a visibly higher passing speed and even though they attacked the North Bank end at the far end of the stadium from me, I could see the increased sense of urgency.
A couple of minutes in and a Santi Cazorla through ball to our number 15 the Ox and a lob from him seemed to be going over, but it dips at the last minute and ruffles the net.
A relief, and even the wretched away supporters drummer missed a few beats.
For a moment the old Arsenal returned straight after the first goal as a rare Palace up field sortie needed Chesney to save with his knees to stop a very undeserved equaliser.
But this Arsenal has a bit more steel in defence nowadays and after that cardiac arrest moment the solid pairing of the BFG and Kozzer calmed the nerves allowing the Ox to grow in confidence and began to have more influence on the game.
As usual Podolski was taken off and replaced by an unmasked Tomáš Rosický (the protective facial shielding deemed not necessary now) who immediately injected a bit more life in the midfield.
A neat bit of hold up play by Olly fed the ball to the Ox who, even though he was a long way from me, his acceleration was obvious and he surged into the penalty area to rifle in his second of the game. This young man seems to be our main pacey alternative in the absence of Theo until Gnabry gains a bit more experience.
Chamakh was subbed off and he got a respectful applause from the home support as he trotted off – the class you’d expect from our support. Big time Bendtner came on for the knackered Olly came on and very nearly got the ire of the home support, who had cheered him onto the pitch, by losing posession in our penalty area but he then won it back and set up an attack. Boo boys averted !
The game wound down and as home support began to leave early we had the Palace fans say:
“We are Crystal Palace, we stay to the end, we stay to the eee-end, we are Crystal Palace, we stay to the end”
- Not strictly true as I saw a steady trickle of them leave from 80 minutes onwards – so there!
So three points, top of the table and it’s over to CSKA Fulham tomorrow to take points off Abu Dhabi FC, if we can get over the feeling of sordidness we’ll all need to be Chavski fans for an evening.
By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)