Saturday, October 26, 2013

Crystal Palace 0 - Arsenal 2

It seemed like a perfect match for Arsenal to regain their footing after a disappointing midweek loss to Dortmund at home in the Champion's League. After all, Crystal Palace (CP) were near the bottom of the table, having picked up just 3 points in their first eight matches, and their popular manager Ian Holloway resigned earlier this week. But there's no such thing as a sure thing in the Premier League. From the start of the match, the CP players worked hard and pressed Arsenal high up the pitch, giving Arsenal's creative midfielders little space in which to operate. And they looked for their own scoring opportunities on the break, with former Gunner Maraoune Chamakh leading the front line.

Not long into the match, Mathieu Flamini looked to have pulled a groin muscle and had to be replaced. In what proved to be a brilliant move, Wenger substituted the attacking winger Serge Gnabry for the defensive midfield stalwart, and the German looked dangerous from the moment he stepped on the pitch, several times darting into dangerous areas against a CP defense that seemed ill-equipped to handle his pace and ability to change direction on a dime. It was that skill that eventually earned him and Arsenal a penalty kick in the third minute of the second half, which Mikel Arteta scored with confidence.

Fifteen minutes later, Arteta was sent packing by referee Chris Foy, who showed him a red card for a foul on his former teammate Chamakh. Foy adjudged Arteta to be the last defender, even though the foul occurred far nearer the halfway line than the Arsenal goal. Moreover, replays indicated that Chamakh initiated the contact, which resulted in both players tumbling to the turf. Anyway, Arsenal were down to 10 men for the last 30 minutes of the match (including stoppage time), a number that did not include either of their holding midfielders.

In that circumstance, CP not surprisingly gained a stronger offensive foothold in the match, and started to severely test the Arsenal defense. And they would have tied the match but for two saves. The first was made by the woodwork, but the second was the result of outstanding goalkeeping by Wojciech Szczesny, who got a strong enough hand to a bullet of a shot from just outside the penalty area to deflect it over the bar.

Finally, Arsenal put the game to rest on a counterattack, when Jack Ramsey set up Oliver Giroud with a sweetly lifted pass from just outside the left side of the penalty box. Giroud was charging into the box and the ball appeared right in front of his face. He probably could not have avoided heading it into the goal if he had wanted to.

All in all, a good win for Arsenal. CP might be disappointed not to have gained a point from the match, but it always seems that teams near the bottom have the luck go against them, as CP did in this match.
But Arsenal now face a new problem for the upcoming League schedule. Arteta will be sitting with the red card, while Flamini may be sidelined with a groin injury. Nacho Monreal came in and did a decent job in front of defense (and also popped up in the offensive third) as a substitute. But this is still a position where Arsenal lack some needed depth. It's certainly possible for either Wilshire or Ramsey to drop back into the holding midfield position; but they both like to get forward so much that they are inclined to leave space open that other teams might attack. For the sake of upcoming games in all competitions, let's hope that Flamini has a quick recovery.

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