Despite their dominance, as well as chances created in the final third, Arsenal squandered yet more points courtesy of Yannick Bolasie’s second-half strike – in a season that is becoming one to forget.
Goals from Alexis Sánchez and Yannick Bolasie ensured that both sides shared the spoils in this London derby – but it was yet another game that Arsenal themselves really should’ve won.
It was a must-win match for Arsenal, make no mistake about that. Considering their inconsistent form saw them drop rather dramatically from the Premier League title race, they needed to keep pace with Manchester City and Tottenham to avoid falling away in quite frustrating fashion – something that has happened all-too-often in previous seasons. From the early exchanges, you would’ve felt it was inevitable that the Gunners would seal the victory too – but Crystal Palace, in spite of their faltering league form since the start of 2016, were always going to pose a threat against their London counterparts.
Possession, but only half-chances
Alan Pardew clearly set his side up to be prepared for what awaited them: possession football, pass-and-move play from their hosts, in a game that hardly anyone fancied them for. Their main strengths stemmed from set-pieces and breaking at speed on the counter-attack, with both Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon amongst the danger men at the Eagles’ disposal.
In the first-half, the hosts enjoyed plenty of the ball but had seemingly nothing to show for their encouraging show of dominance.
Pape Souaré was amongst the visitors’ most prominent players as he had his hands full trying to stifle the likes of Alexis Sánchez – something which is definitely easier said than done. Sánchez was denied a penalty-kick, saw a free-kick effort swerve narrowly wide of goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey‘s far post, and was tireless as he tried to make things happen at the forefront of the Gunners’ attacking play in the final third.
Final minutes of the half welcome frantic chances
Hennessey was eventually forced into making his first save of the match, minutes before the end of the first-half. Great link-up play between Alexis and Mesut Özil saw the latter played through on-goal from close-range, but the silky German was thwarted by a smart reaction save to keep the scores level.
As Connor Wickham saw his header flash over the crossbar at one end, Alexis broke the deadlock at the other – just before the half-time interval. Tireless work was inevitably rewarded after Danny Welbeck pressured a mistake from the Palace backline, before flicking a delightful lofted pass into Alexis’ path, with the Chilean able to latch onto the ball quickly to head over Hennessey, who rushed off his line but it was ultimately in vain.
Tactical shape alterations for second 45
Pardew’s side made a substitution as the second-half begun, with winger Bakary Sako replacing defensive-minded midfielder Mile Jedinak – it was clear that the visitors needed to get themselves back in the game, and Sako’s presence could definitely help them restore balance and consequently create more clear-cut opportunities to score in-and-around the final third.
The dynamic duo of Iwobi-Welbeck continued to blossom, but the latter’s selfishness infront of goal could’ve proved potentially costly in the end – as both Alexis and Özil were lurking dangerously in space within the box. Sako’s counter-attacking exploits were effectively silenced by the pace and defensive workrate shown by fullback Hector Bellerín, who pressed him out wide and managed to effectively halt the visitors’ momentum just as they were looking threatening on the counter-attack.
More chances, as Gunners look to kill the game off
Joe Ledley was given the game’s first yellow card for a cynical tackle on Alexis as he was advancing dangerously towards the area – and Özil was unlucky not to double the lead with the resulting free-kick, which curled inches away from the top corner.
Emmanuel Adebayor was introduced on the hour mark, unsurprisingly welcomed by a chorus of boos from the home supporters, as Palace were fortunate to still be in the game after a goalmouth scramble was eventually hoofed clear. Hennessey was forced into another good reaction stop to deny Welbeck’s acrobatic strike, before Mohamed Elneny failed to get proper contact on the follow-up, saving Palace’s blushes after a defensive lapse in concentration.
Quick thinking from Özil almost resulted in a much-needed second goal for the Gunners, to relieve some understandable nerves within the Emirates crowd. His quick free-kick was met by Alexis’ head, and his effort seemed destined to nestle into the bottom corner. Instead though, it narrowly trickled wide and Hennessey looked a lucky man as Wenger’s side continued to crank up the pressure.
Alexis gave the hosts something to cheer with his excellent footwork, whilst Bellerín’s lofted cross was encouraging but fellow fullback Nacho Monreal was tentative to strike, sending the ball out for a corner-kick. Scott Dann was booked after a lazy sliding challenge on Welbeck, who essentially span him inside-out on the far side, with the hosts preparing two substitutions in the latter stages.
Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey replaced Welbeck and Iwobi, whilst Puncheon was replaced by former Manchester United winger Wilfried Zaha with just over 15 minutes to play. Cech was then forced into an acrobatic tip-over-the-crossbar to deny the visitors’ an equaliser from an innocuous corner-kick, before providing his safe hands once more to comfortably smother a dangerous ball fizzed into the area at the second attempt.
Bolasie’s strike typifies Arsenal’s season
Despite their multitude of chances, the Gunners’ lead was certainly not comfortable considering the one-goal cushion. Yannick Bolasie equalised with a powerful strike, evading Francis Coquelin‘s pressure before powering low and hard past Cech – who did well to get his hand on the effort, but it trickled painfully into the bottom corner.
Just like that. Arsenal, for all their dominance, found themselves on the verge of two more dropped points. Supporters were already disgruntled, they’ve seen this happen far too often for it to be an unfortunate occurence. Four minutes of stoppage time was allocated by the fourth official with his electronic board, and in all honesty, Palace looked the more threatening on the break.
After a victory against Norwich, and a hard-earned draw against Everton, this result would’ve capped off a good week’s work for the visitors. As for Arsenal on the other hand, nothing much about 2016 could be described as “good”, instead, frustrating. Irritating, annoying, forgettable.
Gabriel’s last-ditch sliding challenge made sure Palace didn’t steal all three points, but it was a game that Arsenal themselves should’ve settled. Typical of their season, they made it harder for themselves and squandered yet more points.