Stars Return to Blow Palace Away.

Clinical and precise, Arsenal dismantled Crystal Palace on Sunday to go eight clear at the top. Barring a consolation goal and a couple of Zaha-generated scares, the win was wrapped up after an hour to quell talk of a post-Europe slump.  

The Europa League should never have been an afterthought, and would have been great to win. To have done so would probably have represented Arsenal’s greatest victory in Europe, arguably ahead of the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994. 

Though, to digress, you have to remember that football talent was more evenly distributed in the 90s, and that every Serie A team had two or three world beaters. It meant you could expect to meet superstars like Cafu, Weah, Lombardo, Zola, Raí, Vierchowod, Asprilla and Mihajlović in Europe’s third competition, so it’s hard to compare. 

Anyway, in 21st-century football, the Thursday-Sunday fixture cycle is a grim slog. The further you progress, the more you start to wonder if it’s a trap, as Man United may learn. 

So we’ve broken out of it, and long-term that might be something to be happy about, but coming into this game we could speculate about short-term damage. We got a parting gift of tired legs and a key starter and a key backup sidelined for who knows how long. 

But come Sunday afternoon, it was Palace that looked listless, and no wonder, having also played and lost midweek, and now finding themselves without a manager at short notice. Was it fair to sack Vieira? They had not won a game in 2023, but were also on the last leg of a brutal fixture list, so I don’t know. 

It didn’t take us long to work out how they were going to try to get the ball forward, by drawing us up the pitch at goal kicks, and hitting their wingers in space. Had Joachim Andersen survived the warm-up you imagine he’d have been supplying most of that passing threat, because nobody else was up to it. 

Arsenal were always on top in the first half, with decisive and eye-catching contributions from Martinelli and Saka, but everyone is due some credit. Holding, aggressive and powerful in the air, showed his ball-playing ability with three or four accurate cross-field passes early on. Odegaard, Partey, Xhaka and Zinchenko escaped with the ball from tight situations, while joining forces to squeeze Palace high up the pitch. 

Ben White put on a masterclass. He was the one who stepped in to win it back to start the attack for our opener, and then got the ball to Saka with one of those ostensibly simple angled passes. When the dust settles on this season, we’re going to have to come to terms with the idea of an RB locking down the right flank but serving as Saka’s own private playmaker at the same time. Fingers crossed we can keep him fit for these last 10 games.

For much of the first half hour the ball bobbled to and fro across the Palace area, just out of reach of an Arsenal player. But finally, Saka’s cross made its way to Martinelli to cut onto his left and blasted inside the far post with his weaker foot. If Thursday night was a blow, he wasn’t showing it. 

Then just before half-time, Ben White added nuance and danger to two successive moves, and Saka turned and shot low past Palace’s young goalkeeper, maybe showing his inexperience by taking up an iffy position. 

While they looked ragged as a group, Palace have individuals who can turn a game, as we were reminded before we took the lead. Holding over-committed to a slide tackle high up the pitch, Schlupp pounced and Zaha loped into the space, going one-on-one against White. 

Zaha shimmied and shot low against the post, and the ball ricocheted off Ramsdale’s calf and out for a corner. The replay showed that Ramsdale got a fingertip to the initial shot, so maybe he earned that moment of luck.

On the few other occasions Palace managed to hurt us, Zaha was the man involved. Just after half-time he went on another menacing run, and later forced a save from a narrow angle.

When they did start to make a game of it in the second half, Arsenal responded. The first of those replies was the best goal of the game. Zinchenko played one of his characteristic line-breaking passes to Xhaka, who laid it off first-time to Trossard who keeps showing us how well he can measure a final ball. 

As with his chance against Fulham last week, Xhaka burst into the area, but this time prodded it into the net under pressure from the recovering defender.

Given the schedule, it’s understandable that Arsenal started to ease off with the score at 3-0. 

All the same, Palace’s goal was needless. It came from a corner conceded with a strange clearance by White, who could have picked up the ball and recycled possession but slammed it into the Clock End. 

We should have intervened as Schlupp brought the corner under control, but we didn’t, and he whacked it home. Palace barely merited a scoreline as narrow as 3-1, but might have narrowed it even further, when Zaha pulled it wide after some loose play, first by Ramsdale and then Partey. 

We decided we needed to get serious again, and wrapped it all up a couple of minutes later. A Jesus run caused a bit of mayhem in the Palace defence, and the ball found its way out to Tierney who pulled it back perfectly for Saka to kill the game with a strike into the bottom corner. 

Game over, with a win that answered a lot of questions, drew a line under Thursday and put everyone in a good mood going into the international break. 


12 comments on “Stars Return to Blow Palace Away.

  1. Thanks Bird, much appreciated!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. ANOTHER winner – and that’s just from Birdkamp! Great description of what the score line suggested was a routine win but really was not.

    Palace started brightly and looked motivated, Zaha determined (probably to put himself in the window, so to speak), but they were ground down by all the attributes this fine Arsenal side have been displaying all season. And what a pleasure it was to watch it again, that energy, the one-touch stuff, the commitment and togetherness.

    I had just checked goal difference when Palace scored, so you can probably blame me for that one.

    The next five games may prove tougher than the previous five but we are now surely in the driving seat and very much there on merit alone, with little help from the refs etc.

    Try and enjoy the break, pray for zero injuries, fatigue etc; we’ve got ten finals to play!

    Cheers Birdkamp for the article, great to relive it all a day later.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I have nothing to add to what was a perfect article. Exciting times.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Thanks Mills, AA, and George. Kind of a weird one because it was totally one-sided, partly because of the curious way Palace tried to get Zaha into the game—yet this is also what made them dangerous.

    It does feel that we’ve been a bit unlucky with how the ball breaks in the area, and we still aren’t making enough of the many dangerous positions we get into.

    I first saw it away at Man U, and I’ve noticed it a lot more since the WC, especially in the home games. We engineer these crazy overloads and totally unbalance the other team, but don’t create a chance out of it. Fortunately against Palace we were clinical with the chances we did create.

    It might also be that without Nketiah we don’t have a kind of ball magnet in the box.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Im interested in what you guys think: when players get sent off it tends to destroy the game ( Arsenal in the CL final), usually( but not always) the team down to ten men stashes everyone behind the ball and defends like bldy fk. It might have been exciting in cup games back in the 70s/ 80s, but the games moved on since then?

    Would it be better that a player from the subs bench could come on to replace the dismissed player, but obviously it would chip of the amount potential substitutions?

    I realise the neg aspect of this would mean there could be more fouling to get guys sent off, but then it severe punishment could be brought in like banned for twenty games?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It is testament to the brilliance of our front players that I thought the front line weren’t up to their usual standards.
    Saka kept trying to come inside every time instead of mixing it up, MO was trying to work the shooting opportunity rather than the pass, Trossard was a little lost at first and Gaby always takes the personal option.
    The first time Saka took the ball on the outside of the defender was the first time he managed to get an excellent cross in and Gaby hasn’t got time to think he is lethal.
    The second goal was important as we still didn’t really have total control and Palace have many players who can create something out of nothing. The simplicity of it highlighted the waste of the Hollywood efforts from earlier on.
    The third goal was fantastic nothing complicated just fast first time passing that just kept palace looking at the player that had just moved the ball rather than the player who had it.
    It was nice to see Keiran come on and play so well and the assist for Bukayo was absolutely perfect.
    Finally Big Bob was excellent another plus from the squad, he might not like having to run after speed merchants but he is a good old fashion stopper who loves to defend.
    All the fanfare was about Jesus coming back but he hasn’t even started yet.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you BK

    Is a perfect tribute to YW with so many he brought together still reading the posts, nice one George thank you too.
    Fitting for a season where Arteta reaffirmed the gift that is Arsenal’s class and quality at Xmas with a present for (the sane) Arsenal fans.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thanks, FP, that’s very nice of you to say. V happy to contribute, whatever the next ten fixtures bring!

    Can’t believe it’s been over three years already btw.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks Birdy: top stuff as ever. Joel Garner, one of the all-time great bowlers, was known throughout the game as Big Bird, literally due to his height, but metaphorically for the way he towered over everyone. You are the Big Bird of punditry!
    With regard to the remaining games, it seems to me we have every chance if we can keep our midfield three fit. All three of them have had their detractors, both here and in the wider Arsenal community, but this season has seen them gell into one of the great midfield trios. I couldn’t understand all the fuss about Partey, thinking he was clumsy, careless and cumbersome. Many saw Xhaka as slow, brainless and a Red Card waiting to happen, while Odergaard was a lighweight fancy-pants, unable to impose himself on evenly-fought games; at best a pound shop Ozil and no great wonder he was unwanted at Real. I’ve not been able to go to any matches this season, but from what I’ve seen on TV when these three are on song we are playing better football than just about anyone in the world. They have been a joy to watch, and it does remain a slight mystery that playing like we have done so (relatively) few clear-cut chances are created. It would be no great surpise if one game it all clicked and we scored a hatful. Here’s hoping.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Interesting that Haaland isn’t going on international duty.
    I may be wrong but feel he will be back to full fitness very soon.


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