Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Flamini, Ramsey, Ozil, Cazorla, Giroud
Subs: Fabianski, Monreal, Vermaelen, Wilshere, Rosicky, Gnabry, Bendtner
Arsenal survived Mikel Arteta’s second half sending off to beat Crystal Palace 2-0 in a tense encounter at Selhurst Park. The Spanish midfielder had given the Gunners the lead from the spot a minute after the break after a foul on Serge Gnabry but then received his marching orders from referee Chris Foy for a foul on Marouane Chamakh just after the hour mark. Wojciech Szczesny then produced two match-winning saves as Palace pressed for an equaliser before Aaron Ramsey set up Olivier Giroud for a sucker punch second.
To all intents and purposes the game began like a training exercise, Arsenal content to play keep ball against a Palace side set-up by caretaker manager Keith Millen to defend with all 11 men behind the ball. For all our neat interplay we created little in the way of clear cut chances although Giroud did head over from a decent Sagna cross.
The biggest headache for Arsene Wenger was another injury sustained by Mathieu Flamini. The French holding midfielder, returning after the concussion sustained last weekend, lasted only seven minutes before limping off with a groin injury. He was replaced by Serge Gnabry with Ramsey dropping back next to Arteta.
Having had almost all the possession, Arsenal began retreating into their own half allowing Palace, who’d spent much of the early proceedings aimlessly lumping the ball at Marouane Chamakh, to push forward. It’s a tactic which has worked well in recent weeks, allowing us more space to hit sides on the break, although on this occasion it just seemed to inject the home side with confidence. A ten minute spell saw several long range efforts by the home side although none seriously challenged Wojciech Szczesny.
Cazorla went close just after the half hour mark with a low drilled effort across goal, Ramsey nearly beat Speroni at the near post with a viciously struck shot after terrific play by Ozil before Gnabry was hauled down right on the edge of the box after a darting run. It should have been a penalty. Alas, just as we looked like we might break the deadlock Chamakh wasted a glorious chance to put Palace ahead jumping too early and completely missing a dangerous cross inside the six-yard box.
Giroud had a half chance just before the break, chesting the ball down before miskicking a bouncing effort goalwards, but too often we floundered in and around the box our one-two football of the Norwich victory a distant memory.
Inside a minute of the second half Gnabry won the penalty he should have been awarded in the first. Getting behind the Palace defence he sold Adlène Guedioura a dummy, spun on a sixpence instead of crossing and had his legs taken out. Mikel Arteta stepped up and smacked the ball home high into the top left. (1-0)
The lively Gnabry nearly doubled the lead moments later when the ball bounced off him in the box after another determined run, only for spin on the ball to take the accidental effort wide of the post. Giroud squandered another effort shouldering the ball when he should have netted with his head from four yards out.
Just after the hour mark Arteta was handed his marching orders for a challenge on Chamakh 35 yards from goal in the left hand channel. The Spaniard was the last man but the decision looked ridiculously harsh given the distance from goal. Wilshere came on for Gnabry and Monreal replaced Cazorla as Wenger looked to sure up a midfield already missing Flamini.
The changes invited the home side to push forward with more gusto and they twice nearly scored from long range efforts. Only heroic saves from Szczesny, first from Delaney’s drive and then from Jedinek’s swerving volley, maintained the lead. It was top class keeping.
The last fifteen minutes were unbearably tense with Palace camped in our half lofting balls into the box. Monreal nearly eased the pressure after a great run but couldn’t find a finish while Mertesacker and Sagna were forced into last ditch challenges at the other end. Ozil should have killed off Palace once and for all but miscued a volley before we finally sealed the points.
Aaron Ramsey broke through the Palace defence, held up play, spotted Giroud racing into the box and picked out the Frenchman with a delicious lofted ball. The Frenchman galloping like a glorious thoroughbred leaped high to head home and make it 2-0. It was a fine goal greeted with smiles and fist pumps aplenty on the bench.
The win extends Arsenal’s lead at the top to five points ahead of the 3pm kick-offs and keeps the pressure on our rivals as we ready ourselves for a tough November.