Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Crystal Palace FC 3-0 Arsenal FC

Crystal Palace FC 3-0 Arsenal FC
2016/2017 Premier League
Monday 10th April 2017
20:00pm BST
Selhurst Park
Attendance: 25,648

Hello and welcome to The Football Journey!

With the end of the season fast approaching, every game is crucial for the Eagles now in their bid to avoid the drop into the Championship. Arsenal haven't exactly been a world-class side as of late in the midst of all the drama with their fans and Arsène Wenger, so there was absolutely no reason for Palace to not cause an upset here.

Don't get me wrong, it hasn't been a stellar campaign for the Eagles either, but having recently picked up some much-needed form, I actually had high hopes for my local team here.

Let's get into it!
View from the Upper Holmesdale
The run-in
Crystal Palace went into this one off the back of a defeat to Southampton in mid-week, but have been victorious in 4 of their last 5 games, including a win against 1st placed Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Much of that has been down to the brilliance of Mamadou Sakho, who has quickly become a fan favourite here at Selhurst Park.

The Eagles have picked up two 1-0 victories in their last two games at SE25, coming against Middlesbrough and Watford respectively.

In all honesty, I didn't think I'd be writing about Crystal Palace being on good form for the rest of the season, as much of this campaign has been hugely disappointing until recently. They're a much different team now compared to when Sunderland beat them 4-0 back in February, and they've changed for the better, for sure.

The visitors from North London came into this game after a routine 3-0 victory over strugglers West Ham United at the Emirates on Wednesday, which should've given the Gunners some much-needed confidence when you consider the below-par standard of football they've been providing for their fans recently.

Arsenal have only won three times in their last eight games in all competitions prior to this one, with two of those victories coming against Vanarama National League sides, Sutton United and Lincoln City, in the 5th and 6th rounds of the Emirates FA Cup.

What gave me even more confidence is the Gunners' recent away form. They've only picked up one victory in their last five outings in unknown territories prior to this game, and guess what... It came against the aforementioned Sutton United. The other four games have been losses, and as Palace are my local team, this made me very optimistic about this game under the lights in South London.

The build-up
The hosts were without Steve Mandanda, Patrick Van Aanholt, Scott Dann, James Tomkins, Fraizer Campbell and Loïc Remy who all missed the game through short-term injuries, as well as Connor Wickham and Pape Souaré who are out with long-term problems. That's quite a hefty list if you ask me. However, with a whole load of reinforcements joining the Eagles in January, such as Mamadou Sakho, Luka Milivojević and Jeffrey Schlupp, the situation wasn't as bad as it could've been. Frankly enough, I had full faith in the starting line-up, even with Martin Kelly at centre-back.

Scottish international James McArthur made his way back onto the bench for Palace after missing the games against Chelsea and Southampton through back spasms.

As for the visitors, third-choice goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez stepped into the starting line-up since both Petr Čech and David Ospina were unavailable for the Gunners, whilst Laurent Koscielny, Lucas Pérez and Santi Cazorla all also missed this encounter with injuries of their own. With key defensive players such as Laurent Koscielny missing, this gave me even more confidence on top of all the confidence I already had.

I think the problems surrounding Arsène Wenger and the divide in the Arsenal fan-base shouldn't go unnoticed, and I obviously don't know how much this has affected the confidence in the Arsenal dressing room (if at all), but it certainly hasn't been a perfect few months for the North Londoners.

Having said that, Arsenal did beat Crystal Palace with a scoreline of 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on New Year's Day, which included a world-class scorpion kick goal from Olivier Giroud, and the Eagles have only managed to pick up one point against the Gunners since getting promoted in 2013, so I can't even lie... there was still a minor fear factor.
Soaking up the pre-game atmosphere
Anything is possible in football, and although the recent head-to-head record didn't favour my local boys, I thought that a draw here was a realistic expectation.

I just couldn't believe my eyes when the game finished 3-0.

The match
In all fairness, Arsenal did create a whole bunch of chances throughout the game, but at no point do I feel like Crystal Palace lost control.

The first half-chance of the game fell to one of Crystal Palace's winter signings, Luka Milivojević, but the ex-Olympiacos man wasn't able to direct his left-footed thunderbolt on target, and ended up striking narrowly wide of the goal.

Just two minutes later, Arsenal almost found themselves ahead. Theo Walcott laid the ball of for Mohamed Elneny, whose curling effort across the goal was met well by Wayne Hennessey, with the Welsh international confidently tipping the ball around the post.
Jeffrey Schlupp getting ready to take a throw-in
The Eagles were able to cause a threat next, and it proved to be crucial. Yohan Cabaye slotted a perfectly weighted through ball into the path of Wilfried Zaha on the right side of the penalty area, and although he slipped as he was off balance, his square ball across the box was met by Andros Townsend who smartly poked the ball over Emiliano Martínez and into the roof of the net to put the Eagles 1-0 up.

The visitors needed to find an instant response, and it was their star-man, Alexis Sánchez, who tried to provide just that. Firstly, Wayne Hennessey was equal to the Chilean's left-footed volley from close range, whilst his curling effort a few minutes later went centimetres wide of the far post.

There was plenty of action with just five minutes to go before the break, but Palace's Christian Benteke and Arsenal's Danny Welbeck and Gabriel, all weren't able to find the back of the net. It was 1-0 at half-time to the Eagles!
Palace heading into the changing room in high spirits
The hosts found the back of the net again shortly after the restart when Andros Townsend's right-footed strike was palmed away by Emiliano Martínez and into the path of Christian Benteke, but the target-man was offside when he tapped the ball into the goal from six yards out.

The Eagles seemed to get caught out at the back soon after when Alexis Sánchez played a peach of a ball to Hector Bellerín at the far post, only for the Spanish full-back to scuff his side-footed volley well wide of the goal.

The Gunners were made to pay for their missed opportunities just past the hour-mark when they found themselves 2-0 down. Fan-favourite Wilfried Zaha played a perfect pass to Yohan Cabaye on the left-side of the edge of the box, and the Palace number 7 sent his wonderful curling strike across Emiliano Martínez and into the top left corner of the goal to double his side's advantage, causing everyone (including myself) to go absolutely mental. Incredible scenes.
Wilfried Zaha just before he provided the assist for Yohan Cabaye
Just five minutes later, it got even better. Andros Townsend's perseverance to win the ball back paid off when he was taken down by Emiliano Martínez in the box following a brilliant piece of pressure high up the pitch. Midfield general, Luka Milivojević, stepped up to take the resulting penalty, and confidently despatched it into the bottom left corner of the goal. Unbelievable.
What a picture.
The visitors were close to grabbing a consolation when Hector Bellerín's lobbed cross beat Wayne Hennessey and almost found Olivier Giroud at the back post, but Martin Kelly's outstanding clearance off the line sealed the clean sheet for the Eagles. As for a man I have criticised pretty much all season, it was an absolutely phenomenal bit of play.

Not much else happened in the last twenty minutes of the game as Palace simply saw out the game, and the scoreline at the final whistle was Crystal Palace 3-0 Arsenal. What a performance!

The teams
Palace: Hennessey; Ward, Kelly, Sakho, Schlupp; Cabaye (McArthur 74'), Milivojević (Flamini 82'), Puncheon (c); Zaha (Delaney 88'), Benteke, Townsend

Bookings:
Unused subs: Speroni, Fryers, Sako, Kaikai

Manager: Sam Allardyce

Arsenal: Martínez; Bellerín, Mustafi, Gabriel, Monreal; Xhaka, Elneny (Ramsey 59'); Walcott (c) (Oxlade-Chamberlain 69'), Özil, Sánchez; Welbeck (Giroud 60')

Bookings: Mustafi
Unused subs: Macey, Mertersacker, Gibbs, Coquelin

Manager: Arsène Wenger

The run-down
This was by far the best game I've ever seen since my first visit to Selhurst Park in 2008. I have absolutely no doubt about it. I understand Arsenal aren't exactly in the best of places right now but seeing my local team do THAT against the likes of Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil was truly mind-boggling. The boys really made the whole of South London proud.

The atmosphere was eccentric right throughout the ninety minutes, and every single player in red and blue left their hearts out on the pitch. I just wish they played like that throughout the whole season, but sadly I can't change the past. As for the future, that's now five wins from six games, so hopefully, the only way is up.

I'd honestly be surprised if Arsène Wenger chooses to sign a new contract. In my eyes, he's ruining his own legacy and eventually, the Arsenal fans will remember him for the shambles he is causing now, instead of for what he's done for the club in the past. I personally think he should resign at the end of this season, but that's just my opinion.

It's now Tuesday and I honestly still can't believe what I saw last night. What a performance... Up the Palace!

Match rating: 10/10
Atmosphere rating: 9.5/10
Overall rating: 9.8/10
(A bit biased I know, but I can't help it)

I haven't quite decided where I'll be going next but there's a very good chance it'll be Brentford vs Derby County on Friday. See you then!

Follow me on Twitter @_kubap5 and @PolishBlanco for updates.

Thank you for reading!

Kuba

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