It was a fun day at the Arsenal yesterday as we beat Crystal Palace 4-1 to go 8 points clear at the top of the table.
As expected, Rob Holding came into the side, his majestic mane ready to deputise for the injured William Saliba, while we saw Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard, Thomas Partey and Leandro Trossard back into the starting line up.
There was an early scare when Aaron Ramsdale made a save from Zaha, the ball hit the post and hit him to go behind for a corner. From where I was sitting I couldn’t see how close it was, but ask Emi Martinez about how those things can go.
For the most part though, we were on top, probing and looking for a way through the Palace rearguard. It came just before the half hour mark. Ben White, who I thought was brilliant all day with his one sexy short short, played a pass to Saka, who fired it across the box with his right foot to Martinelli. The Brazilian stepped outside the defender, and fizzed home a beautiful shot into the far side of the net.
Just before the break it was 2-0. White again involved, playing a pass to Saka who had run off Zaha just enough to get space to curl home a shot with his left foot. We celebrated. Then we waited because there was a VAR check for offside. And we waited. Then we celebrated again when the goal was given, but it was still quite annoying.
Going 3-0 up early in the second half felt about right in terms of the performance. It came from a passage of play where we stroked the ball around without Palace getting anywhere near it, and then a wonderfully incisive pass from Zinchenko (I think), fed Xhaka who laid it off to Trossard who played it back to Xhaka for the finish. I haven’t seen a lot of replays yet, but the finish looked a bit unconventional. Still, it’s his second in two games this week in his highest scoring season to date, and after playing 120 minutes in midweek, it’s a testament to his physicality he did the full 90 yesterday and looked like he could have kept running for 90 more.
In the stands, there was a lot of laughter about the passage of play before the Palace goal. Ben White was in a battle with Zaha, which he looked like he won, but the ball squirted forward. I’ll need to see it again, but he chased back, then seemed to take out Xhaka as he conceded a corner. Honestly, it was very funny as the two of them lay flattened on the ground before hugging it out. Of course it wasn’t so funny when they scored but I feel like I prefer to blame Palace for being spoilsports and ruining a great Ben White moment.
At 3-1, there was just a sense of nervousness around. Not sheer terror or anything, but just a little reminder that bad stuff happens in games too. When Zaha put a shot not very far wide at all, I was a bit concerned because I would not have enjoyed 3-2. Instead, we decided the best thing to do was score again. Substitute Kieran Tierney provided the assist for another Saka strike. Again there was a VAR check, I have no idea who could have been offside in that move. Again it spoiled the celebrations a bit, but the goal stood and the lead was then insurmountable.
The rest of the game seemed to be about trying to get Gabriel Jesus on the scoresheet, which obviously didn’t happen, and there’ll be a pub quiz question one day about Arsenal finishing a game with a back four of Tierney, Kiwior, Holding and Partey at right back. There was a nice moment late on when the Polish international got back well to deny Zaha after he’d run through on goal, and he had some high fives with his central defensive partner once the ball had gone dead.
Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:
I’m really happy, very pleased with the way we started the game. I was really happy with the way they reacted after Thursday, and we took any question mark away from it. We showed a lot of determination, a lot of purpose in our way of playing. I’m really happy to perform the way we did after playing 120 minutes, after losing two big players for us and to still compete and win the game how we did.
Man City’s win in the FA Cup was obviously irrelevant in Premier League terms, but a 6-0 win is still a bit of ‘Look at what we can do’ kinda scoreline. Arsenal’s response yesterday was to win 4-1 and go 8 points clear. You just can’t argue with that, and I would much rather points on the board than games in hand.
The atmosphere remains enjoyably positive. Arsenal fans are enjoying themselves, and why not? The Vieira song rang loud around the stadium a few times, and I’m sorry Fabio, but it wasn’t for you. ‘We all live in a yellow submarine’ being co-opted as a way of having a go at Tottenham was very funny too. And what’s so great is that there’s hope, there’s optimism, there’s belief, there’s the sheer happiness that you get from seeing your team play good football, but no arrogance. Everyone knows there’s still work to do, and difficult games ahead, but it feels like there’s a determination to enjoy this journey we’re on wherever it ends up.
The Interlull is now upon us, we await some news on injured players like Tomiyasu and Saliba, and perhaps more than any other international break I can remember, people will be praying for the safe return of our important players. Because when we come back, it’s all about the run-in. That’s something we can deal with down the line, for now we can be content that we didn’t let the opportunity to put some pressure on City pass us by, and we did it in some style.
Just a quick word for the many people I ran into yesterday who read the blog and listen to the podcast, from far and wide. All corners of the globe. It’s always so much fun to meet people, and I hope you enjoyed the day as much as I did.
James and I will be recording an Arsecast Extra for you later – but it won’t be until I get back to Dublin this afternoon. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.
We should have the podcast for you around 6pm or so. Until then.