Arsenal’s winning streak on the road was certain to break at some time, but considering the authoritative and mature manner in which Mikel Arteta’s team had ground out five consecutive away victories, few could have imagined it would happen in such calamitous circumstances.
Crystal Palace was superb and well-deserving of a resounding victory that increases their prospects of finishing in the top half of the table and generates momentum for an FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea. But they were up against last season’s wild Arsenal, not this season’s composed Arsenal. The triumph was hailed as much in N17 as it was in SE25; the north London derby is quickly becoming a winner-takes-all battle for the fourth Champions League spot.
As Palace’s players basked in the spring sunlight after a 4-0 thumping of Everton a fortnight ago, there was a sense that the international break had arrived at an inconvenient moment. Instead, the players and fans picked up just where they left off, dazzling their opponents with sheer energy on the field and wild noise off it.
Arsenal seems unprepared for the challenge at hand. Conor Gallagher was a red, blue, and blonde blur, rushing through the Gunners’ nervous backline, while Wilfried Zaha dazzled the unwary Cedric Soares with his fast feet. Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsdale’s precision kicking was a yard off, Ben White was taken back to his disastrous August start in Brentford, and Thomas Partey went back to air-kicking speculative shots.
The only surprise was that Jean-Philippe Mateta’s goal did not arrive sooner than the 14th minute. A looping Gallagher free-kick hovered in the air for what seemed like an age before crashing down and rebounding off the back of Joachim Andersen’s head and into Mateta’s path, who side-footed home.
Instead of just rousing Arsenal, the goal just energized an already energized Palace. With a hopeful ball from defense that dribbled between Nuno Tavares and Gabriel Magalhaes into Jordan Ayew’s path, Andersen achieved an unexpected double-assist. Selhurst held its breath for a single second as the Ghanaian neared, but the striker known for his lack of goals finished with great assurance.
Ramsdale, who was recalled from the bench following a hip injury, produced an unusual stop to keep the score low, scooping a Mateta drive to safety after Zaha had bullied Cedric to the ball.
Gabriel Martinelli was called in to assist kickstart the rescue operation, replacing the distraught Tavares, with Granit Xhaka sliding over to left-back. That seems to be a problem position for Arsenal, with Arteta ominously stating before the game that Kierney Tierney’s knee injury, incurred while playing for Scotland last week, is “not looking good.” Arsenal was given another blow during the encounter as Partey was forced off late in the game.
The move did not result in an instant improvement in fortunes. Indeed, it was Ramsdale, not Vicente Guaita, who made the opening save of the second half, denying Andersen’s free-kick after the Dane had marched methodically towards the ball, followed by a dramatic thunderclap from the Palace supporters.
Lately, a top-heavy Arsenal began to carve out opportunities. Emile Smith Rowe finished tamely inside the area after combining with Lacazette, while Odegaard scuffed a shot from one foot onto the other when unmarked inside the box seconds later. For the second time in the game, Arteta substituted an attacker for a full-back, this time Eddie Nketiah, who must have been relieved to see his number flash up.
Tierney’s knee injury ‘doesn’t seem good,’ says Arteta, while Partey’s knock is a ‘significant concern.’
Arteta’s starting lineup has grown increasingly predictable in recent months, therefore the absence of Kierney from the starting XI was notable.
Arsenal sent a follow-up tweet shortly after announcing their starting lineup on Twitter, stating that the Scotland left-back was out due to a knee injury, with Arteta confirming the terrible news before kick-off.
“When he returned from international duty, he felt something wrong in his knee,” Arteta explained. “There is some deterioration there.” We’ll find out more on Tuesday, but it’s not looking good.”
Following that, Arteta stated that Thomas Party also had an injury late in the game, implying that it was a recurrence of the hamstring ailment that had previously given him problems.
When asked about the seriousness of the injury, Arteta said, “I don’t know, but he felt something in the same area where he was injured before, so it’s a concern.”
Arteta said that his team had a tough night. “We weren’t at the races from the start,” he said. “You have to compete when you come here.” You have to win duels, second balls, and be aggressive, which we were not, and on top of that, we were terrible on the ball.
“We tried in the second half, we had three or four big chances, but they got a penalty on their only half chance.” Accept the criticism, put your hand up and apologize since your performance was inadequate for this club, and then react.”