We badly needed a victory against Crystal Palace after our dismal performance in our season opener against West Ham, and while it wasn’t always pretty, we came away from Selhurst Park with all three points.
There were ructions from fans when the teamsheets were released, with some extremely questionable decisions made by Arsene Wenger. Hector Bellerin returned from injury and replaced Mathieu Debuchy at right-back, a move many expected following the Spaniard’s fine form since his emergence.
Slightly more surprising was the omission of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – arguably our best attacking player in recent weeks – with Alexis Sanchez taking his place. Few were shocked that Wenger had thrown Alexis straight back in, but the fact that Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil, and Santi Cazorla all kept their places in midfield raised a few eyebrows, as we looked narrower than ever.
We started brightly regardless, and took control right from the first whistle. Alexis was threatening, but you could tell he wasn’t at his sharpest. He had a fantastic chance to put us ahead after a quick counter, but his hesitation allowed Palace to clear off the line.
The home side certainly weren’t looking toothless, and the pace of Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha out wide was a real threat. We looked solid though, and eventually got the breakthrough.
Mesut Özil struggled badly against West Ham, but looked excellent against Alan Pardew’s side. He whipped a cross into the box from the left, a ball which unfortunately looked to be too far behind Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman improvised superbly though, launching himself into the air and scissor kicking past Alex McCarthy. 1-0.
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We have often been guilty of switching off after taking the lead, and occasionally pulling back into our shell to hold onto that lead. We did the opposite this time around though, and repeatedly threatened to double our tally.
A combination of poor defending and goalkeeping allowed Palace to level things up however, Joel Ward finding the net totally against the run of play. We didn’t close down quick enough, and Ward was allowed far too much space near the edge of the area. Laurent Koscielny uncharacteristically turned his back on the shot, with the vicious strike flying straight through the space where his body would have been. Petr Cech was far too slow to get down as well, although in his defence he may have been unsighted. 1-1
Francis Coquelin picked up a yellow card shortly after the goal, with the Frenchman lunging into a tackle to prevent a counter. This is to be expected in his position, but he was obviously walking on egg shells after the booking. This didn’t seem to change his approach though, and five minutes later there was fury from the home support – with the 24-year-old lucky to escape a second yellow for a clumsy challenge.
We went into half time with things level, but we’d by far been the better side. The Eagles looked to respond after the break though, and came out positively after the half time whistle.
It was an open game, with both sides seeing a number of chances. Coquelin was almost sent off again in the second half, and Wenger finally saw sense and replaced him with the Ox.
We almost went behind for the first time in the game, with Palace new boy Connor Wickham latching onto an excellent cross. He got in front of Hector Bellerin, but as Petr Cech watched on helplessly, the former Sunderland man could only turn his shot onto the post.
Players and fans breathed a collective sigh of relief, and moments later our lead was restored. Bellerin fired a cross towards the far post, with the Palace defender favourite to win the header. Alexis Sanchez leapt like a salmon and rose above him though, powering a header towards goal. Damien Delaney attempted a block, but could only turn it into his own net. 2-1.
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We had to endure a late surge from the home side, and Cech was forced to make a number of saves. It was a tense finish to the game, but in the end we came away with a much needed win.