Monday, 23 February 2015

Lucky Arsenal

Crystal Palace 1-2 Arsenal

Arsenal were extremely fortunate to leave Selhurst Park with all three points on Saturday, as Crystal Palace really took the game to their opponents and deserved at least a draw for their great endeavour.

From the very first whistle Palace pressed the Gunners high up the pitch, giving them very little time and space on the ball. These are tactics which have caused Arsenal great problems in the past and Saturday was no different. Arsene Wenger’s side struggled desperately to build any sort of momentum as they were unable to get their passing game going. As a result, Palace were able to enjoy a great deal of possession and attacked the Gunners throughout.

Given that Arsenal are employing a counter attacking game of late, the fact Palace were attacking them at will, should have really played into the Gunners hands, as in theory at least, Palace should have been easy to pick off once possession was lost. Yet their unrelenting pressing meant that whenever Arsenal won the ball back, they just could not get into the final third often enough and attack the home side’s defence.

In order to effectively play a counter attacking game, Arsenal first need to defend well but on Saturday both full backs were hopelessly exposed at times. With Hector Bellerin having picked up an injury, Callum Chambers was brought in at right back, but didn’t pick up from where he had left off against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup. Chambers just does not have the pace to be an effective right back. When playing against a pacey and tricky wide man, he struggles desperately and gets exposed far too easily. This was the same case with Monreal at left back on Saturday, with the Spaniard struggling to cope with the pace and skill of Wilfred Zaha, when one would have though the natural pace of Kieran Gibbs would have been more suited to the task.

With Palace getting in behind the Arsenal defence far too easily, the Gunners were thankful that the home side seemed to select the wrong option each and every time they managed to get into promising positions. As a result, although Palace did enjoy the greater possession in the first half, Ospina’s goal was largely untroubled. Unfortunately this had very little to do with good defending from the visitors.

Somehow, at the end of the first half, Arsenal found themselves two goals up. The first came as early as the 7th minute as Danny Welbeck took advantage of an error from Palace’s Souare, won possession and surged towards goal before being brought down by the Senegalese. Replays showed the foul had been committed right on the edge of the area but the referee pointed to the spot. Up stepped Santi Cazorla to coolly send Speroni the wrong way and give the Gunners an early lead. The goal should have knocked the stuffing out of the home side, but strangely appeared to have no effect on proceedings as Palace continued to take the game to Arsenal, who sat back and struggled to break out for large periods.

Having taken the lead early in the first half, Arsenal doubled their advantage right on the stroke of halftime. Welbeck was directly involved once again, this time running in behind the Palace defence, albeit from a slightly offside position, before firing on goal from a tight angle. Speroni saved the shot but could only parry the ball right to Olivier Giroud, for the Frenchman to poke home.

Once again however, the goal had little effect on the game as Palace came out for the second half extremely fired up. Their hunger, desire and endeavour could not be faulted at all, but again their decision making in the final third was greatly letting them down and Arsenal could have made them pay by effectively sealed the game just after the hour mark.

As Palace committed men forward a long pass found Ozil one on one with the last Palace defender. As Arsenal players surged forward to support the attack, Ozil showed great awareness and skill to hold the ball up, before releasing it at the perfect moment into the path of Sanchez, who seemed destined to score. Unfortunately the Chilean’s finish, with the outside of his foot, saw the ball fly just past the post, denying him and his team a classic counter attacking goal.

Having missed a golden opportunity to put the game to bed, Arsenal were always susceptible to a comeback. With Selhurst Park one of the most atmospheric stadiums in the Permier League, the Gunners knew that one goal from the home side would increase the volume significantly. Yannick Bolasie’s introduction caused them all sorts of problems as Chambers’ lack of pace was exposed each and every time Bolasie ran at him.

Yet with the game entering the 94th minute, Arsenal appeared to have the game won. Palace had other ideas and reduced the deficit through Glen Murray’s close range finish, following a scramble in the box. But with the fourth official having earlier indicated 5 minutes of added on time, surely this was a case of too little too late? A mere consolation goal for the home side. After all, Arsenal would have possession from the restart and see out the last minute of the game. Once again Palace had other ideas and managed to launch one final attack. Bolasie surged forward, down the left flank and delivered a wonderful cross, which evaded the desperate dive of Ospina and was met by the head of Murray. Much to the relief of the Arsenal faithful, the ball struck the post and went straight into the arms of Ospina.

In the post-match interviews, the Arsenal players acknowledged they had been extremely fortunate to win the game, but that it had been an important victory. Arsenal have now moved into third place following the weekend results, but will have to perform far better to keep that place come the end of the season. In their last few league games, the Gunners have been extremely poor, especially in the central midfield area, where they really should be at their strongest. They simply cannot perform in this manner against a better side and hope to get away with it. Arsenal must improve and must do so quickly!

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