Crystal Palace knock three past Arsene Wenger and his heedless Europa destined clan.
The Eagles had clear ambitions when hosting Arsenal at Selhurst Park; utilise the aerial dominance of Benteke and allow Townsend and Zaha to terrorise the opposition full backs – and it worked a treat. That exact trio were involved in first two goals whilst the last was a penalty to seal the game.
Palace started the better of the two teams, launching everything towards the big Belgian at the top who towered over the centre back combo of Mustafi and Gabriel with ease, winning 7 out of 10 aerial duals in the first half alone.
Momentum was Palace’s way, although the first goal opportunity landed to Elneny, who’s performance along with Xhaka’s was disconcerting to any on-looking gooner, who’s curling effort was easily palmed away by Hennessey in the eighth minute. Townsend was running riot and Zaha was like a bear with ice skates on, gliding through bodies of arid yellow shirts and aggressively retrieving possession whenever lost.
Emiliano Martinez featured between the sticks for Arsenal for the second time in the Premier League this season and did a fantastic job of looking comfortable in the early stages, comfortably collecting wayward crosses and in-swinging corners, but showed signs of rusty reflexes and jaded judgement when he passed to the nearside billboard from a goal kick.
With this, Palace upped the gear and preyed on the lacklustre start from Arsenal by pressing hard from a central free kick at the half-way line. The ball is sent Benteke’s way, Gabriel cower in his presence and allows the ball to go sailing past the pair and into the feet of the impressive Cabaye. A slick piece of passing play between him and Townsend allowed the latter the slip Zaha in through the inside right of the box, the Ivorian performing a unique ‘falling over’ low cross back to the former Spurs winger, who side-footed the ball over a grounded Martinez from six yards out.
The goal, scored in the 16th minute, rewarded Palace for their positive play. Yet, more poignantly, punished Arsenal for their lack of creativity, pace, organisation – well, their lack of ‘Arsenal’. The midfield duo of Xhaka and Elneny repeatedly conceded possession, only maintaining it when the pass was 2 metres to the side or back to the defence, and the creative talents of Sanchez, Walcott and Ozil failed to get into the game.
The first half ends after the linesman, Arsenal’s best defensive weapon of the game, denies two Palace goal-scoring opportunities. A feeble Gabriel header and Welbeck dragged shot later, the whistle was blown for half time and a ghoulish Wenger marched towards the tunnel.
Yet the second half came and Arsenal still didn’t arrive, Zaha erupted after half time and caused havoc for a misplaced Monreal, creating a few more decent chances in the early stages of the second half. Townsend’s low drive allowed a goal hanging Benteke to poke the ball home but Arsenal’s MVP came to the rescue again, raising the flag to signal the Belgian as offside.
Further carnage pursued for several minutes, capped off by Cabaye in the 62nd minute who had the moment of the match after another ‘header-lay off-slip cross’ combo from Benteke-Townsend-Zaha. The ball fizzed across to him from the right and, from just outside the box, he lofted it over the helpless Martinez and into the far corner.
Minutes later Townsend darts across the Arsenal box chasing a loose ball, beating Bellerin and culprit Martinez to the ball, who clawed his ankles and dragging the England international to the ground inside the box. Penalty awarded, Milivojevic, or Milo, smashed it into the bottom right with calmness and tranquillity, celebrating his first Premier League goal of his career.
It wasn’t until this point that Arsenal, 3-0 down and already the laughing stock of everything North of Antarctica, tried to combine some passes and imagine what it’s like to be a team again. However, their efforts were futile and lead to nothing in the remaining 25 minutes, the best opportunity falling to Benteke after an electric Crystal Palace counter attack that constantly had Arsenal at unease.
The defenders were shambolic and the attackers were invisible, this wasn’t helped by two self destructive central midfielders who performed more successful passes to their London counterparts than fellow team mates. Arsenal had collapsed and all but evaporated, despite the score-line being more fortuitous, the game felt more humiliating to watch than the Bayern obliteration in February.
Not taking anything away from the Palace performance though; a man-of-the-match show from Zaha, tremendous displays from the aforementioned forwards and resilient resistance from the defence, markedly Liverpool loanee Sakho who looked like an old school Tony Adams at the back, showed why they are destined to be a Premier League for the season to come.