Result: Crystal Palace 1-3 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 19 May 2021
Venue: Selhurst Park
Arsenal: Leno, Chambers, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney, Partey, Elneny, Saka, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Aubameyang
Subs: Ryan, Cedric, Mari, Xhaka, Ceballos, Odegaard, Willian, Lacazette, Martinelli
Gabriel Martinelli and Nicolas Pepe scored in stoppage time as Arsenal snatched a 3-1 win at Crystal Palace.
The Ivorian had given the Gunners the lead with a fine finish in the first half but Mikel Arteta’s men had to work very hard for the points after Christian Benteke headed home an equaliser.
Needing a win to keep our hopes of qualifying for Europe alive, Martinelli collected an Odegaard pass to score from close range before Pepe rounded things off with a fine solo effort right at the death.
All eyes were on Roy Hodgson before kick-off as both sides and 6,000 Crystal Palace fans saluted the 73-year-old on the occasion of his final game in charge at Selhurst Park. Arsenal lined up in the brand new yellow away strip with Kieran Tierney, Gabriel, Rob Holding and Calum Chambers in defence, Mo Elneny and Tommy Partey anchoring the midfield and Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Nico Pepe providing the ammunition for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Granit Xhaka was fit enough to be included on the bench after a couple of weeks on the sidelines.
The game began at a frenetic pace as Arsenal, needing a win to keep slim hopes of European qualification alive, looked for an early goal. It didn’t come, but we did work several promising situations down the right flank.
Chambers and Smith Rowe both whipped in dangerous crosses inside the opening five minutes. It was to become a common theme. Arteta had obviously drilled his players to target the space behind Palace’s Tyrick Mitchell with the aforementioned duo constantly making overlapping runs around Pepe. Unfortunately, their end product left much to be desired.
With Palace supporters making lots of noise and keen to impose themselves on referee Anthony Taylor, there was a tetchiness to the match. Schlupp made a horrible challenge on Chambers that left the right-back requiring treatment and he was lucky didn’t upgrade the yellow card dished out to him. A further flashpoint arrived when Joel Ward needlessly kicked out at Tierney off the ball. The Scot made the most of the situation but no card was forthcoming. The home support took it upon themselves to boo our man for the rest of the half.
Clear cut chances were few and far between, but Palace certainly had opportunities to break the deadlock. Cahill headed wide early, Partey had to make an important challenge on Schlupp and Leno claimed a Ward header at full stretch. Unsurprisingly, Palace aimed a lot of high balls at Benteke and the Belgian came close on the half-hour mark when he found space behind Gabriel to clamber over Tierney. Luckily, his header from six yards out went over.
At the other end, Saka thought he’d won a penalty when he rounded Guaita only to be felled. Unfortunately for the England international, the flag had gone up for offside.
After Leno made another decent stop to tip a deflected Schlupp effort around the post, the Gunners finally clicked into gear. 35 minutes were on the clock when Saka played a quick give and go with Tierney, then returned the ball to the Scot with a perfect back heel. The left-back spotted Pepe’s run into the box, whipped in a cross and the Ivorian met the ball on the volley to find the back of the net from the penalty spot. It was the best move of the match and ended with the goal it deserved. (1-0)
Arsenal seemed happy to sit deep in the period left before the break and we did well dealing with the aerial bombardment. Benteke’s frustration nearly got the better of him and the Belgian was arguably lucky to stay on the pitch when he swiped an arm at Elneny after the Egyptian took umbrage to a shoulder charge on Saka. Both went in the book.
A Benteke header had the Palace fans off their feet early but Arsenal settled down and looked comfortable enough on the ball. It was tight and scrappy but every so often we broke through the lines and had space to attack. Chambers and Tierney both had chances to pick out teammates but were denied but decent defending.
If Palace were going to score, it always felt like a set-piece might play a part. When Partey clumsily went through the back of Zaha, it gave Townsend the perfect opportunity to whip in a ball from a dangerous area on the left. He did so with aplomb, finding Benteke who crashed home a header. Arsenal hands went up in unison claiming offside. VAR looked it over but the goal stood despite it highlighting a Benteke nudge on Elneny. (1-1)
Arteta responded by sending on Martin Odegaard for Saka but it didn’t stop the game swinging Palace’s way. Leno had to close down another Benteke effort and a combination of the German, Holding and Chambers stopped Zaha.
Needing a goal to keep our slim chances of European qualification alive, Xhaka was sent on to exert some control in place of the sloppy Partey. Martinelli also joined the action at the expense of Tierney. Rather than go hell for leather, we looked tentative and devoid of ideas in the final third. It was reminiscent of the second leg against Villarreal.
After Jordan Ayew went close, a quick Arsenal counter did see Chambers find Aubameyang with a cross but the striker couldn’t direct an effort on target. Five minutes of nothing seemed to pass in the blink of an eye.
Finally, in stoppage time we produced another moment of quality. Odegaard clipped a delightful ball to the back post where Martinelli controlled the ball enough to give himself the chance of a shot. From pretty much on the goalline he squeezed the ball home. VAR had a look. Offside? No. Handball? No. Goal. A massive goal for Arsenal. (2-1)
Against the backdrop of stunned silence, Pepe rubbed salt in the wound by scoring his second of the game with the last kick of the game. It was a fantastic solo effort as he wriggled through several challenges before calmly stroking home with his left foot. (3-1)