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.