Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace: Eight Points Clear!!!
Final Result: Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace (Martinelli 28′, Saka 43′, 74′, Xhaka 55′ | Schlupp 63′)
Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): White (Jorginho 83′), Holding, Gabriel (Kiwior 86′), Zinchenko (Tierney 65′); Partey, Xhaka; Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli (Smith-Rowe 83′); Trossard (G. Jesus 65′)
Arsenal played 120 grueling minutes against Sporting CP and suffered heartache from losing the penalty shootouts against the Portuguese outfit but there was the important business of the Premier League with Crystal Palace, without their manager, Patrick Vieira, coming to town. Due to Manchester City’s involvement in the FA Cup quarterfinals, their Premier League clash with West Ham was cancelled, so Arsenal had the glorious chance of going eight points clear at the top with a win over the relegation threatened London neighbors.
To team selection, there were returns for Ben White with Takehiro Tomiyasu out injured, as well as Thomas Partey, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard. In attack, Leandro Trossard returned to lead the line ahead of Gabriel Jesus who’s still seeking to gain full fitness after such a long time out.
The visitors almost had the lead early on when Jeffery Schlupp found Wilfried Zaha, and the Ivorian cut in before smashing a shot that clipped the post and hit Aaron Ramsdale before drifting agonizingly wide. Seeing that attempt reminded me of Arsenal’s late goal against Aston Villa, but Ramsdale is no Emi Martinez, I guess.
Crystal Palace drew first blood when Odsonne Edouard was played through on goal with only Ramsdale to beat but Arsenal goalie made a smart save before Rob Holding, who retained his place following William Saliba’s injury absence, clearing the ball before Edouard could attempt a rebound. However, the linesman raised his flag for offside. With Crystal Palace’s main goalies, Vicente Guaita and Sam Johnstone, still injured, youngster, Joe Whitworth, had another shot between the sticks and he showed good reflexes to save a fierce shot from Odegaard after Saka’s cross was deflected to the Arsenal captain’s path.
As expected, the combination of Odegaard, Saka and White were causing so much problems for Crystal Palace on the right, and it was no surprise when Arsenal’s opening goal arrived after some intricate play on that flank. White teed up Saka who showed good movement at the edge of the area before drilling the ball into the box. Gabriel Martinelli took the ball on the turn and blasted it home with his left foot to banish all ghosts of Thursday night. White, who was having a stormer on the right wing, cushioned another carefully-threaded ball to Odegaard that fired a fizzling shot that narrowly missed its intended target.
Arsenal went two up before the break following some nice intricate attacking play which started with Granit Xhaka playing a sumptuous ball that narrowly evaded Trossard, but Saka picked up the pieces, executed a neat one-two with White, leaving Mitchell and Zaha for dead, before the Starboy curled his effort past Whitworth to send the Emirates to raptures. It was a goal Arsenal’s constant barrage of pressure deserved.
After the break, Zaha fashioned another chance for himself and fired a shot from his trademark range but Ramsdale watched the ball sternly as it whistled past the post. Crystal Palace was made to rue that miss as Arsenal put the game beyond doubt when Trossard found Xhaka with a lovely through ball and the Swiss midfielder found a way to bundle the ball into the net as he clearly stumbled following some pressure from a Crystal Palace defender. That was Xhaka’s sixth goal this season, which is the highest he has achieved in his professional career in a single campaign. His previous personal best was five goals he scored while Borussia Monchengladbach colors some nine years ago.
The visitors grabbed what turned out to be consolation goal when Michael Olise’s corner was well controlled and finished by Schlupp, who had the time to bring the ball under his stride before blasting past Ramsdale at point blank range. Shortly afterwards, Arteta sent in Tierney and Gabriel Jesus to freshen things up in the attacking third and the Gunners got their just rewards for the attacking tactical tweak later in the game.
Schlupp gained some confidence from his strike and teed up Zaha with a good chance, but the winger, like the previous chances he had attempted, fired his effort wide. On the other end, Saka showed Zaha how its done with the Arsenal winger scoring the final goal of the tie close to the penalty box after receiving a smart pass from Tierney. This was Saka’s 13th strike of the season, surpassing his personal best of 12 he amassed in the last campaign, and with that goal, Saka also became the first player to have double figures for goals and assists this season, which has been talismanic if you ask me.
Late on, there was time for Jakub Kiwior to have his Arsenal league debut, much to the appreciation of the fans and he showed good awareness to block a late chance for Crystal Palace, earning plaudits from his teammates. The ref’s whistle was like music to the ears of the Arsenal faithful, as Mikel Arteta’s men are taking closer steps to winning the Premier League, and sitting eight points clear at the top is quite comfortable, thank you very much.
Manchester City hosts Champions League qualification hopefuls, Liverpool, while Arsenal hosts Leeds United under the management of new coach, Gracia, that’s aiming to help them avoid relegation, so we should expect more drama in the coming weeks, but at the moment, we can only hope that the players go into the international break for their respective nations and return unscathed.
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