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Crystal Palace 2-3 Arsenal: Three talking points from Selhurst Park

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Photo: Reuters

Arsenal moved to within a point of rivals Liverpool in fourth place in the Premier League table as Alexis Sanchez’s sublime second-half double ended Crystal Palace’s unbeaten run on Thursday night.

In Arsene Wenger’s record-equalling 810th Premier League match in charge of the Gunners, the Frenchman saw his side lead early on when Shkodran Mustafi poked in unmarked at the far post.

The visitors failed to convert their first-half dominance into further goals before the break though and it seemed like they may pay the price for it when Andros Townsend turned home Wilfried Zaha’s cross shortly after the break.

Palace well and truly had momentum – and the Selhurst Park crowd – on their side after that but two wonderful goals from Alexis Sanchez in the space of four second-half minutes knocked the wind out of the home side’s sails, with the Chilean thumping home before deftly touching into the net.

Roy Hodgson’s side refused to roll over and hit back with a period of pressure of their own, with the influential Zaha skewing a late header wide before substitute Bakary Sako blazed over when well set.

The hosts did pull one back when James Tomkins nodded home in the 89th minute but it was a case of too little too late for Palace, who tasted defeat for the first time in their past nine league matches.

Just a third away victory of the season sees Arsenal move onto 37 points, the same number as Tottenham in fifth, whilst Hodgson’s side remain a point above the relegation spots in 16th place.

Arsenal nullify in-form Palace

Heading into Thursday night’s match Arsene Wenger’s side possessed one of the worst away records in the Premier League this season with just two wins in their nine outings, and the prospect of a trip to a rejuvenated Crystal Palace – without a loss in eight – could have served up another banana skin.

And whilst the 3-2 final score-line suggests that it was a close game, there were times during the first-half especially where the Gunners were playing some fluent football close to their very best.

The dangerous duo of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were influential in attack, combining with intricate one-touch football on numerous occasions only to be lack the telling finish in front of goal.

There was one particular move before the break that scythed open the heart of the hosts team in emphatic fashion, building up five or six one-touch passes and edging towards the area before the ball broke to Granit Xhaka on the edge of the box, whose goal-bound effort was blocked.

Yet for all their signs of promise – and moments of individual brilliance from Sanchez during his quickfire double – their defensive fragility almost let the hosts back in when the game seemed gone.

At 3-1 ahead and in the 80th minute they all of a sudden became a bit frenetic, lifting Palace hopes by allowing them to have a few chances before they grabbed a deserved second, and had there been another five minutes of football the host most probably would have scored again.

If anything it was a performance that summarised everything both good and bad about Wenger’s tenure in charge on his milestone 810th match, but he’ll be quietly pleased about his side’s display.

Zaha will gain interest in January

If Crystal Palace had in fact managed to get anything out of the match then they would have been completely indebted to a wonderful performance from Wilfried Zaha.

The ex-Manchester United winger has come in for criticism throughout his career for his lack of consistency on the field but there was nobody doubting his prowess at Selhurst Park last night as, time and time again, he showed why he’s cut out for a better side than Palace.

He was their most potent threat from the start, being the man to drive forward when his midfield sat deep in their own-half, and by the second-half he had Calum Chambers on toast down the left.

It was a trademark darting run that set-up Palace’s equaliser, twisting and turning before smartly pulling the ball back for Andros Townsend to tuck home, but more than that he ran his socks off right until the full-time whistle such is his determination now. Yet this could be bad for Palace fans.

With the January transfer window creeping up around the corner there’s no doubt that Zaha’s season so far will garner attention from the top teams, and deservedly so as most would agree.

His future may lie away from Selhurst Park but for now he deserves the plaudits for leading the Eagles’ revival over the past two months, turning things around from their perilous early position.

Sanchez puts himself in the shop window with brace

You could almost hear every football fan across the country think the same thing when Alexis Sanchez’s second went in on Thursday night – isn’t it funny he’s scoring now January draws near?

The Chilean’s failed move to Manchester City on deadline day during the summer was as well-documented as it was poorly executed, and the fact that contract negotiations are still yet to take place when his current deal runs out at the end of the summer suggests an Emirates exit is nigh.

But whilst the conjecture will go on over Sanchez’s whereabouts come February let it not detract from an excellent, and well overdue, individual performance that showed he still has a lot to offer.

He has somewhat struggled so far this season to reach the heights of last year where he carried the current Arsenal team. For a point of comparison, this time 12 months ago he had already scored 12 times and assisted five times, but fast forward and he’s ‘only’ managed to find the net on seven occasions and assist three times in the 2017/18 campaign.

That said, he still has higher tallies than Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, and it’s just the ridiculously high standards that Sanchez himself set last season that mean he’s come in for some criticism this year.

Within the space of four second-half minutes he had snatched the initiative back away from the hosts after a period of pressure following their equaliser with two finishes right from the top drawer.

His first was the definition of a snap-shot, working less than a yard of space before thumping in at the near post, whilst his second was a far defter touch into the net from Jack Wilshere’s superb raking ball over the top of the defence.

Arsenal fans will be rightfully fearing the worst ahead of the January transfer market but, until anything is concrete with regards to his exit, all he can do is keep contributing in an Arsenal shirt.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @willypearson.

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Arsenal

Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace: Three talking points from the Emirates

Rob Meech

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Arsenal
Photo: Reuters

A barnstorming first-half performance against Crystal Palace saw Arsenal record their first victory of 2018. Nacho Monreal, Alex Iwobi, Laurent Koscielny and Alexandre Lacazette all scored in the opening 22 minutes to stun Crystal Palace. Arsenal could not add to their tally as the visitors stemmed the bleeding and replied with a late consolation through Luka Milivojevic.

This was a much-needed victory for Arsenal, whose ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League have taken a blow in recent weeks. Palace meanwhile, have been in impressive form since Roy Hodgson took charge, but this defeat has checked their progress. Here are three talking points from the Emirates…

Mesut Ozil steps up in Alexis Sanchez’s absence

With Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United rumoured to be nearing completion, this was a chance for Arsenal supporters to see how the team might shape up without him. Sanchez was excluded from the side that lost to Bournemouth last weekend, but his absence was hardly felt here.

That might have had something to do with the return of Mesut Ozil from injury. The Germany international was influential throughout, particularly in partnership with the rejuvenated Jack Wilshere. Ozil is sometimes accused of drifting in and out of games against top-quality opposition, but when he is given licence to express himself without defensive responsibility, there are few better players to watch in the Premier League.

Although he failed to get on the scoresheet, Ozil showed Gunners fans that there can be life after Sanchez. It should not be forgotten that Ozil is another Arsenal player in the final six months of his contract. Tying him down to a new deal must be a priority for the club.

A reality check for lacklustre Palace

After losing their first seven Premier League matches – without scoring a goal in the process – relegation seemed nailed on for Palace. The appointment of Hodgson was largely derided, but the former England boss has had a remarkable impact in a relatively short space of time at Selhurst Park.

Survival is by no means guaranteed, but such has been their upturn in form that it is hard to imagine the Eagles being sucked back into trouble. It says a lot about their progress that many thought an upset might have been on the cards. Palace, however, were left shell-shocked after Arsenal’s four-goal burst.

When the Gunners click, they can be irresistible. Palace fans need not be too alarmed, even if their defending was lax. In fact, they should be heartened that their players did not capitulate in the second period, with the game effectively over. Although Milivojevic’s goal was too, little too late, it was just reward for a much-improved second-half performance.

Lacazette issues a timely reminder 

With a 3-0 advantage after just 13 minutes, Arsenal were in cruise control. But it was Lacazette’s goal, rounding off a superb team move to make it 4-0, that would have provided the biggest cheer. After hitting the ground running following his big-money transfer from Lyon last summer, the 26-year-old had endured a goal drought that stretched all the way back to December 2.

With questions being asked about his form, amid speculation that Arsenal are set to launch a raid for Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, this was a timely reminder that Lacazette has plenty to offer. His overall record of nine Premier League goals from 24 appearances is more than respectable for a newcomer to the English game.

Lacazette will hope that his goal against Palace can be the catalyst for another scoring run. Without Sanchez, the burden rests more heavily on the France international and if a move for Aubameyang does not materialise, he will have a big part to play in Arsenal’s push for the top four.

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Why Everton are the perfect club for Theo Walcott to rebuild his career

Rob Meech

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Theo Walcott

It is hard to believe Theo Walcott is only 28 years old. He burst on to the scene aged 16 for Southampton in League One and was snapped up by Arsenal shortly afterwards. His inexplicable selection for England’s 2006 World Cup squad, without playing in a single Premier League game, transformed him into an overnight star.

Big things have been expected of Walcott ever since. It’s fair to say that, despite winning 47 caps for England and making 397 appearances for Arsenal, he has failed to live up to the hype. Now, after 12 years, Walcott is bidding farewell to the Emirates and hoping to revive his flagging career under Sam Allardyce at Everton, whom he has joined for £20 million after agreeing terms on a three-and-a-half-year deal.

Speculation that Walcott’s days at Arsenal were numbered had persisted for several years, but his desire to prove himself at the club kept him in north London even when admirers came calling. His 21 goals in all competitions in the 2012/13 campaign suggested he had cracked it, but that proved to be a false dawn.

In truth, Walcott’s decision to sign for Everton was probably a no-brainer. Now in the prime of his career, he simply has to be playing regularly. The reality of how far down the pecking order he had fallen at Arsenal struck this season, when he often failed to make Arsene Wenger’s match-day squad. His last appearance for the Gunners came as a second-half substitute in the 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth.

Everton’s interest in Walcott emerged only recently, but he was clearly one of Allardyce’s top targets. One look at the Toffees’ recent form underlines why. After an immediate upturn in fortunes after the former England boss’s appointment, Everton have embarked on a winless streak that stretches back to December 18.

Lack of pace is a pressing concern and this is an attribute that Walcott possesses in abundance. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson are intelligent footballers, but not the type that will blitz opposition defenders. Instead, they have relied on chipping balls over the top for the striker to chase. As such, Everton are one-dimensional and easy to play against, with no player capable of launching a counter-attack.

Also highlighting their urgent need for more firepower is the grim statistic that only rock-bottom Swansea have had fewer shots than Everton this season. New big-money signing Cenk Tosun has increased competition in the striking department but may take time to settle, whereas Walcott’s Premier League pedigree means no transitional period will be needed.

The former Southampton man’s versatility makes him an attractive proposition. For Arsenal, he predominantly featured on the right wing – either in a four-man midfield or a three-man attack – but he is equally adept at playing up top on his own, a position where he tried but ultimately failed to establish himself at the Emirates.

Potential is a word that has long been associated with Walcott. It is no longer applicable. At 28, this is possibly his final chance to realise his ambitions, both domestically and internationally. Everton, a sleeping giant, are a perfect fit. Under the auspices of major shareholder Farhad Moshiri, plans are in the pipeline for a brand-spanking new stadium to enable them to compete alongside the Premier League’s elite.

After being a peripheral figure at Arsenal for so long, Walcott has become the forgotten man of English football. For the sake of his career, he simply had to leave north London. By joining Everton, Walcott, who will wear the number 11 shirt, has the security of working under a manager who rates him highly. Now, he has the opportunity to become the player he always promised to be.

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Bournemouth 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Vitality Stadium

Rob Meech

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Bournemouth
Photo: Reuters

Bournemouth came from behind to claim a much-needed victory over Arsenal, whose hopes of qualifying for the Champions League have suffered another blow.

After an insipid opening period at the Vitality Stadium, the action sparked into life when Hector Bellerin broke the deadlock on 52 minutes.

But Arsenal’s lead was short-lived, as goals from Callum Wilson and Jordon Ibe – his first for the club – secured the Cherries’ fourth home win of the season, which lifted them to 13th in the table.

Arsenal, meanwhile, slipped further adrift in the battle to finish in the top four after their third consecutive league game without a win. Here are three talking points…

Alexis Sanchez moves closer to the Emirates exit door

All the pre-match talk centred on a player who wasn’t involved in the contest. Not only was Alexis Sanchez not named in the starting XI, he wasn’t even on the bench having not travelled to the south coast.

Manager Arsene Wenger was ambiguous when pressed on this in the aftermath of the defeat, but the insinuation was clear; the want-away Chilean will not be an Arsenal player come the end of the transfer window.

Both Manchester City and Manchester United have been heavily linked with a move for Sanchez, whose contract at the Emirates expires in the summer. Despite his uncertain future, this match was crying out for his never-say-die attitude.

Arsenal controlled the first half and deserved to be in front when Bellerin fired home. However, the Gunners were unable to add a second and Bournemouth capitalised with two late efforts. Arsene Wenger’s side are now without a win in four games in 2018 as their troubles mount.

Bournemouth buck the trend against the ‘Big Six’

Before this fixture, Bournemouth had lost all of their matches against the ‘Big Six’ this season, scoring only one goal in seven outings.

While those are not necessarily the games that will define their campaign, it was a worrying statistic that Eddie Howe needed to address. Facing an Arsenal team without Sanchez or Mesut Ozil looked like being the Cherries’ best opportunity to buck that trend, and so it proved.

With only nine points separating all the teams in the bottom half, an unexpected win can do so much to alter the picture. The Cherries didn’t fold after going a goal behind and they merited the three points for an enterprising second-half display.

Having beaten Arsenal for the first time in their history, Bournemouth are now four points clear of the drop-zone. They are by no means safe because of this result, but the psychological impact could be immense.

Jack Wilshere getting back to his best

Returning to the club at which he spent last season on loan, this was not the afternoon Jack Wilshere would have hoped for. Though it didn’t go well from a team perspective, the 26-year-old was close to his best at the Vitality Stadium.

He touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch and also completed more passes. After a frustrating start to the campaign where he struggled for minutes in the Premier League, Wilshere is now establishing himself in the starting XI.

He was Arsenal’s best player against Bournemouth and in a team that lacks leaders, he was one of the few who looked like he wanted the ball. Wilshere ran the show in midfield and was always keen to move forward with purpose.

England manager Gareth Southgate surely can’t ignore Wilshere’s form and, fitness permitting, he must be a shoo-in for the next squad. In a World Cup year, Wilshere is peaking at just the right time.

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