Sunday 21 January 2018

Aaron Ramsey's perfect timing wins reprieve for Arsenal

Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 1

Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey celebrates after scoring the winning goal against Crystal Palace. Photo credit: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey celebrates after scoring the winning goal against Crystal Palace. Photo credit: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Arsenal's Jack Wilshere (R) challenges Crystal Palace's Marouane Chamakh. Photo credit: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny (right) scores their equaliser. Photo credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.
Crystal Palace's Marouane Chamakh and Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez (left) in action. Photo credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.
Crystal Palace's Brede Hangeland (second right) celebrates scoring their first goal of the game. Photo credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.

Amy Lawrence

Thankfully for Arsenal, this season began as the last one ended, with a shot of pure relief as Aaron Ramsey arrived at the right time to deliver the matchwinner. The Welshman had the last word with the FA Cup final victory that triggered a domino effect of optimism that ran through the summer.

Here he salvaged a day that threatened to end in exasperation after Crystal Palace had resisted with the instincts instilled by the man conspicuously missing from the away dugout, Tony Pulis.

This time last year, the atmosphere at the Emirates was toxic as Aston Villa helped themselves to three points on the opening day of the season, and the crowd was mutinous as Arsene Wenger was assailed with cries to spend some of that luxuriously priced ticket money.

This year, money has been spent, optimism abounded, and a disjointed performance against Palace looked headed towards another disappointment as the game ebbed into stoppage time. Thanks to Ramsey, this is one to file away as three points thanks very much and the rest is best forgotten.

For Palace, it was a bitter end to a stressful few days. The team could not have given a great deal more for their club stalwart and temporary manager. Last season when Keith Millen led Palace out against Arsenal in the aftermath of Ian Holloway's traumatic departure, he gave the impression it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for him to manage in the Premier League.

Finding himself in a similar predicament several months later presents a stark reflection on the complexities a club like Crystal Palace faces trying to compete in an overheated market without being too reckless.

Two days after that bizarre separation from Tony Pulis did not appear to be the perfect time to face an Arsenal team on the back of an unusually serene summer. Wenger's selection, the same XI that comprehensively defeated Manchester City in the Community Shield, brimmed with promise. But Palace were able to smother Arsenal's best intentions early on. They were well manned at the back, with Brede Hangeland slotting in and Joe Ledley and Mile Jedinak sitting tight in front of the back four. Arsenal strained to knit moves together.

Yaya Sanogo was again preferred to start up front as Olivier Giroud's fitness levels were not considered up to scratch yet. The rangy 21-year-old struggled to make an impact. Behind him, Alexis Sanchez, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla showed flashes of dexterity, but without much team cohesion Arsenal's game plan wasn't flowing. This was straight from the chapter of the Wenger manual titled "the trouble with 'handbrakey' football".

It took Arsenal almost half an hour to serve up any kind of test for Julian Speroni. Sanchez jinked into space and slipped a pass to Wilshere, who curled in a shot which the Palace 'keeper gathered easily. Palace responded. And how. They showed a sudden sense of adventure when Wojciech Szczesny sprinted out of his area to deal with a long ball but could only hoick his clearance as far as Marouane Chamakh, level with the front edge of the centre circle. The forward who never cut it at Arsenal took aim and Laurent Koscielny improvised superbly to hook away the danger.

From the resulting corner, though, nobody was able to match the giant frame of Hangeland - certainly not Sanchez, who was the man detailed with trying to mark him. Not the obvious choice it must be said. Hangeland's height advantage is a full 30cm. After going three entire seasons without a league goal, he managed one in less than a half of his Palace debut, nodding into the bottom corner.

Shortly before half-time, Arsenal made inroads of their own as Sanchez stood over a dead ball and chipped the ball to drop enticingly for Koscielny to glance in the equaliser.

The game reverted to the pattern of Palace frustrating Arsenal (and in fairness, Arsenal frustrating themselves) after the break. Wenger introduced Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a bid to add more power and penetration. But clear chances were still hard to come by. Sanchez and Ramsey shot from distance, but without the conviction to trouble Speroni. Giroud flashed a chance across the face of goal.

Palace were reduced to ten men when Jason Puncheon was sent off for a second booking. Whether that man down made the difference was moot, but Palace suddenly looked unstable as the ball pinged around their box in stoppage time. Ramsey bundled in to take all Arsenal's frustration and load it on to Palace.


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