Sunday, February 2, 2014

Arsenal 2 - Crystal Palace 0

Arsenal went back top of the table, if only for a day, with an expected (and necessary) win over Palace at the Emirates. CP manager Tony Pulis had his side working for a nil-nil draw from the opening kick, playing all but one striker behind the ball at all times. In the first half, the strategy worked. Arsenal, despite having nearly all the possession, created only a couple of good chances, both off of set pieces.

But an early second-half goal by winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who only recently returned from Arsenal's long injury list, put Pulis's side in a tough position. Santi Cazorla (who has really come into form in the past several weeks, and has considerably outshone the new bright star on the block, Mesut Ozil) was nearly the only player on the pitch who saw "the Ox" breaking down the left center-channel toward the goal. Fortunately, Cazorla had the ball on his foot at the time, and lifted an inch-perfect pass over top of the defense. Ox took one fine touch with his right foot, then lifted the ball with his left foot over the sprawling Palace keeper into the net.

Oxlade-Chamberlain added to his tally later in the half on a beautiful give-and-go with Olivier Giroud. Not far inside CP's half of the field, the ball came into Oxlade-Chamberlain's feet, which he deftly passed to Giroud, who managed to hold off a would-be tackler. Having made the back-pass, Oxland-Chamberlain sprinted straight toward the CP goal, and Giroud, still holding off the defender, manage to get him the ball back in stride. The Ox dribbled three times across the top of the CP's goal area before dispatching a shot into the far corner of the net.

All in all, a convincing-enough performance by the Gunners - though one would still like to see more than a dozen shots on goal with 73% possession for the match. In addition to Oxlade-Chamberlain's outstanding performance (I hope the English national team braintrust were watching), the work rates of Giroud and Cazorla continue to impress, Szczesny made a brilliant save to keep a clean sheet, and Lukas Podolski showed the kind of aggression in the final third that hopefully will infect other players, especially Ozil.

With many tough matches ahead, including in both the FA Cup and the Champion's League, this was a much-needed win at home to keep Arsenal in contention for the League title. They'll stay top of the League tomorrow if Chelsea can manage a win or tie at home to Man City.

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