Same old story as Gunners fluff lines
Arsenal 1 Crystal Palace 1
Published 18/04/2016 | 02:30
A door had just partially been opened with Leicester City's two dropped points in the minutes before this game but, as has been their habit throughout most of the past decade, Arsenal could not stride through it and instead simply tripped over their own feet.
Yes, it was a rare mistake by Petr Cech that ultimately gifted Crystal Palace a share of the points and preserves the gap to Leicester City at a surely insurmountable 13 points, but the wider disappointment was the earlier failure to turn more than 70 per cent of possession into a more convincing scoreline than 1-0.
Ahead of two further matches before Leicester next play, another opportunity was duly wasted and Arsenal's season is instead now all about winning that annual battle to guarantee a top-four place.
It is almost as if the players subconsciously feel more comfortable that way, although this does feel very different to similar previous seasons. This has been the one year, after all, when all the clubs with more money have also faltered.
This was also the year when, after being entrusted to rebuild his squad following the loss of Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas, Arsene Wenger finally seemed certain that he had a team ready to win again. He did not even make an outfield signing last summer.
Yet such faith has again been misplaced and the accompanying sense of deja vu and, yes, outright anger among supporters, has never been more pronounced. The symphony of boos on the final whistle was nothing new, but the sight of so many empty seats and flat atmosphere underlined a worrying apathy.
Unless Arsenal are overhauled by Manchester United or West Ham United, Wenger will probably stay on into the final year of his contract and attempt to again oversee a sustained title challenge, but it feels increasingly like that will be the final chance.
Much had been made of Wenger's rather eccentric preference for Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina in last week's 3-3 draw against West Ham and so it was the return of Cech, following a seven-game absence, that was the most eye-catching element of the two teamsheets.
Palace had started with what looked like a fairly adventurous 4-4-2 formation, but it was quickly clear that defensive organisation would be their priority and they were content to cede territory just as long as it meant that they retained sufficient numbers behind the ball.
It left Arsenal initially struggling to translate their possession into even a shot, much less a clear sight of goal, but, with the frustration of supporters just beginning to become vocal, Alexis Sanchez scored at what should have been an ideal moment.
The ball had broken to Danny Welbeck deep inside Palace's half just as referee Roger East was checking his watch for half-time and the England forward lofted a deft pass towards Sanchez, who managed to defy his 5ft 6in stature to leap above left-back Pape Souare and head Arsenal into the lead.
Arsenal retained their momentum immediately after the interval, but Welbeck was guilty of a soft finish when he might have doubled their lead before Sanchez maintained his unlikely aerial threat with a glancing header from Mesut Ozil's free-kick.
The introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor might have prompted predictable jeers from those Arsenal fans who had never forgotten how he goaded them after scoring for Manchester City in 2009, but, with Alan Pardew then also bringing on Wilfried Zaha, Palace began to carry a greater threat. Bakary Sako forced the first serious test of Cech with a header that the Arsenal goalkeeper tipped over.
Wenger turned to Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey and the France striker had an immediate chance to score what would have been his first Premier League goal since January but missed the ball completely with his attempted finish.
Yannick Bolasie was then rather more clinical in first exploiting Arsenal's lack of pressing in allowing him to run into a goalscoring position before shooting accurately inside Cech's near post. Cech said that the ball "skidded fast" and, with Arsenal then going all out for the winner they so desperately needed, Palace also got into positions to win the game.
Palace manager Pardew said: "They (Arsenal) are vulnerable because they are always pushing for the win.
"I always say if you can stay in the game, then there are going to be opportunities because they over-commit at times. I admire that but, of course, it is an opportunity for you as well."
The main opportunity yesterday, however, felt like the big missed one for Arsenal.
Cech's error might have been pivotal, but the position of his goalkeeper remains just about the least of Wenger's many worries. (©Daily Telegraph, London)