Result: Crystal Palace 3-0 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 4 April 2022
Venue: Selhurst Park
Arsenal: Ramsdale, Cedric, White, Gabriel, Tavares, Partey, Xhaka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe, Saka, Lacazette
Subs: Leno, Holding, Ogungbo, Swanson, Lokonga, Elneny, Martinelli, Flores, Nketiah
Crystal Palace put a dent in Arsenal’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League as they secured a deserved 3-0 win at Selhurst Park.
The home side put themselves in a commanding position inside 24 minutes as Jean-Philippe Mateta and Jordan Ayew netted to punish lackadaisical defending. While the Gunners were much improved after the break, chances to halve the deficit were missed and the game was eventually settled by Wilfried Zaha’s penalty, won after he was fouled by Martin Odegaard.
While Arsenal have a game on hand on Sp*rs, Antonio Conte’s men retain fourth place until the weekend thanks to a superior goal difference.
Mikel Arteta made two changes from the side that beat Aston Villa before the Interlull with Aaron Ramsdale recovering from his muscle injury to replace Bernd Leno and Nuno Tavares coming in for Kieran Tierney. The Scotland international is understood to have picked up a knee issue which is something of a worry. Elsewhere, Nicolas Pepe missed out from the squad with illness and Gabriel Martinelli had to settle for a place on the bench with Emile Smith Rowe selected ahead of him on the left flank. Youngsters Zac Swanson, Mazeed Ogungbo and Marcelo Flores, a full international with Mexico, were all on the subs bench. Unfortunately, there was still no sign of Takehiro Tomiyasu.
Matches under the Selhurst Park lights are always noisy occasions and this one was no exception. From the off, both sets of fans traded chants to the same tune with lyrics lauding their respective managers.
On the pitch, the pace in the opening stages was frantic. Palace pressed high and were aggressive in the one-on-ones. In possession, Arsenal tried to slow things down but we were sloppy when we crossed the halfway line.
Neither side had created a chance of any note before Palace broke the deadlock on 16 minutes via a set piece. After White fouled Zaha, Gallagher curled a deep cross to the back post which Gabriel misjudged and Andersen, unwittingly, diverted the ball back to Mateta who was on hand to divert the ball past Ramsdale with his head. For a side who’ve been very good at defending such situations this season, it wasn’t pretty from Arteta’s men. (0-1)
The home side took heart from the early opener and took pleasure in keeping their foot on our neck. Gabriel and Tavares looked particularly nervous and both were at fault as Ayew doubled the lead on 24 minutes. It wasn’t a complicated goal. Anderson played a ball forward that Tavares wrongly assumed Gabriel would win and when the Brazilian didn’t it left Ayew in loads of space to attack the box and despatch a rocket of a shot past Ramsdale. (0-2)
It felt like game over at that point. To get anything from the game, we needed to be ruthless in attack. The sight of Lacazette lifting a lame header over the bar from a Saka cross didn’t exactly get the blood rushing.
Making matters worse, our passing wasn’t crisp or accurate enough. Partey, who has been great in recent months, had an absolute nightmare, giving the ball away in situations that immediately left us having to defend counterattacks. Arteta looked furious on the touchline, chewing the ear off Airpod Albert.
Chances were few and far between for either side in the final minutes of the half although Ramsdale did have to deal with a Mateta drive and Gabriel did his best to get his head on a stoppage-time corner.
Unsurprisingly, Arteta pulled Tavares from the firing line and chucked on Gabriel Martinelli. Granit Xhaka was moved to left-back, far from ideal, with Partey asked to marshall the centre of the park on his own.
We certainly had more of the ball in the and pressured enough to work two penalty claims only for referee Paul Tierney to wave away the claims by Lacazette and Saka. At the other end, Ramsdale claimed an Andersen free-kick after Partey picked up a booking taking out Schlupp.
We continued to labour in attack. Lacazette looped another head over and Saka fired over wildly before Smith Rowe, with our best chance of the match, tamely struck at Guaita. That was enough for Arteta to roll the dice. Off came Cedric and on came Eddie Nketiah as we went to three at the back.
We created a chance immediately, but Odegaard could only scuff an effort wide following a quick-footed interplay by Smith Rowe and Saka. That was a good as it got before Palace put the game to bed.
Taking advantage of an injury to Partey, who was limping around the centre of the park, Zaha dribbled uncontested into the box with White and Gabriel both backing off. The situation seemed to be under control before Odegaard, who had a poor night, chased back and seemed to clip the Ivorian’s ankles from behind. Referee Tierney waited for a whisker before pointing to the spot. The winger dusted himself down and sent Ramsdale the wrong way with his spot-kick. (3-0)
Saka and then Smith Rowe both had chances to reduce the deficit but the ball just wouldn’t go in as Guaita and Guehi stood firm. With seven minutes remaining, Nketiah dug out a cute curler that clipped the corner of the crossbar and post. It was very much one of those evenings.
After a great run on the road, this is very a night to forget. Coupled with the injuries to Tierney, rumoured to be out for the season, and Partey, it could be a very costly 24 hours at a vital moment of the season.