Last night’s drama at Selhurst Park could well be called “A Tale of Two Managers”.
For Sam Allardyce it was the best of times. For Arsène Wenger, the worst of times. (And, if the mobs of angry Arsenal fans get their way, Wenger’s “End of Days”.)
Wenger’s side played like headless chickens at best, languid sloths at worst, not even managing to get a single shot on target in the second half. Not only was this their worst performance of the season, it’s also put paid to any Champions League hopes they might have had. Such a humiliating outcome will also make it very difficult for Wenger to hang on when his contract expires at the end of the season.
While the Gunners jammed, the Eagles soared out of the relegation zone, though not quite so high as to put the threat permanently behind them. Riding high following wins against Watford, Southampton and Chelsea, the team arrived in high spirits, cheered on by their home crowd.
It was a stark contrast to the acrimonious cloud that followed Arsenal when they finally walked onto the pitch. The fact that they arrived just 45 minutes before kick-off didn’t help matters – and while Arsenal were late to the party, Crystal Palace didn’t miss a beat. The Eagles took an aggressive posture early on – a strategy that clearly worked.
Arsenal won out on possession in the first half, but failed to make it count. Their best chance came with a shot from Elneny, though Hennessey blocked it effortlessly. All throughout the match Palace’s defence held firm, while Townsend and Zaha kept the pressure on up front. It was only a matter of time…
Twenty six minutes, to be precise; first Benteke to Townsend, then onto Cabaye. Cabaye, spotting an unmarked Zaha passed it on. Closing down Zaha is always a smart move, but Arsenal were not playing smart that day. And so, even though he slipped, Zaha still managed to get the ball to Townsend, who secured Palace’s first goal of the match.
The volume in the stadium increased dramatically and sustained. More chances for Palace followed in the ensuing minutes, as Zaha and Townsend kept the pressure on. Another chance from Arsenal too, late in the first half, this time from Sanchez. But once again it was easily dealt with by Hennessey.
And there was even less for the Welshman to do in the second half, though the same can’t be said for his counterpart. Ten minutes into the second half and the Eagles were on the rampage once again – Benteke’s attempt was on target, but offside.
Then, in the 63rd minute, goal number two. Just like before, Zaha was out wide on the right, with another slip and pass, this time to Cabaye, who blasted it past Martinez to make it 2-0.
This would have been bad enough for Arsenal, except that, five minutes later, Arsenal conceded a penalty. Luka Milivojevic stepped up to take it and smashed it past Martinez, making it 3-0.
The rest of the match will be remembered for the sense of disbelief and anger from Arsenal fans who, on several occasions, even jeered their own players.
Wegner remains tight lipped about his future with Arsenal, though die-hard fans are anything but. They want him out the door, ASAP. And this might not be the only exit either, as rumours persist that Ozil may also be considering an exit from the team.
Crystal Palace fans, meanwhile, have much to cheer for when they face Leicester on Saturday. With four back-to-back wins, there’s much to be positive about. Let’s hope this winning streak continues!
– By Nick Barker