Friday 25 May 2018

Gunners' early shelling leaves Palace in ruins

Arsenal 4 Crystal Palace 0

Striker Alex Iwobi shoots by Crystal Palace’s goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey to score Arsenal’s second goal at the Emirates Stadium yesterday. Photo: Ben Stansall
Striker Alex Iwobi shoots by Crystal Palace’s goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey to score Arsenal’s second goal at the Emirates Stadium yesterday. Photo: Ben Stansall

David Hytner

The noise levels around Arsenal continue to be pumped up. It was not without good reason that Arsène Wenger described the January transfer window as the "most destabilising" he has known.

There was no Alexis Sánchez here, as the Arsenal forward closed in on his switch to Manchester United, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan is primed to move in the opposite direction.

Before kick-off it emerged that Arsenal had bid €50m for the Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Olivier Giroud could go from Arsenal to Dortmund. Every day brings fresh intrigue.

Wenger will always say the pitch is the only place where anything matters and his team gave a reminder of what they can do when it all clicks - even if Crystal Palace's non-attendance for the early part of the game contributed to this procession. When Arsenal play as they did here - they were 4-0 up after 22 minutes - it begs the question as to why they can be so weak on other occasions.

Nacho Monreal was the unlikely star on his comeback game from an ankle problem. He scored the opening goal and laid on the second and third before departing on 33 minutes following a knock to his leg. Monreal was not the only Arsenal player that retuned from injury to good effect. Laurent Koscielny scored the third goal while Mesut Özil decorated the afternoon with some lovely touches - not least his flick for Alexandre Lacazette's first goal in 10 games.

Roy Hodgson could not believe what he was watching. How he has revived Palace and, since the home win over Chelsea on 14 October that ignited his tenure, his team had won five further games to pull clear of the Premier League's relegation places. This was a day when virtually nothing went right, down to Yohan Cabaye being taken off on a stretcher in the closing moments.

Arsenal's Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal in action with Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Arsenal's Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal in action with Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Palace had arrived sensing vulnerability in Arsenal. The latest evidence of the north London club's soft underbelly had come at Bournemouth last Sunday and Hodgson had set up in expansive fashion, incorporating Bakary Sako up front, together with Christian Benteke. Wilfried Zaha would provide the menace. Palace intended to stretch their hosts.

Arsenal laid waste to their plans in an early bombardment. Palace were guilty of shocking looseness at the back; time and again it was extraordinary to see how much space those in red shirts were afforded in the final third. Wenger's team twisted the knife with relish.

The game was over after 13 minutes when Monreal eluded James McArthur to run around the back to meet Granit Xhaka's corner. Monreal hooked into the danger area and Koscielny rolled home for 3-0.

Monreal's goal set the tone for both teams. McArthur let him go on a Xhaka corner and the defender - who played on the left of Wenger's flat back four - advanced into yards of space to thump home his header. The goalkeeper, Wayne Hennessey, was caught in no man's land. McArthur put his head in his hands.

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere applauds fans after the final whistle. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Arsenal's Jack Wilshere applauds fans after the final whistle. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Palace were on their heels all too regularly and it was particularly pronounced on Arsenal's second. Timothy Fosu-Mensah stretched to cut out Alex Iwobi's ball for Lacazette but, when it broke, Monreal was allowed to power into the left-hand side of the area. He kept going and going until he cut the ball back and Iwobi, in so much space, swept past Hennessey from close range.

Arsenal enjoyed themselves, pulling out the party tricks; Palace gasped for breath. The fourth was all about the interchange between Özil and Jack Wilshere. The final pass came from Özil - a sumptuous backheel - and Lacazette beat Hennessey for power. For Lacazette the relief was palpable. How must he feel about the club's push for Aubameyang? Possibly not as frustrated as he has been during his recent barren spell.

It was a humiliation for Palace. Özil and Wilshere drew the aaahs with a pair of first-half flicks and the damage at the interval might have been worse for Palace. Iwobi twice worked Hennessey while James Tomkins jumped into a saving block on 15 minutes to deny Xhaka.

The sum total of Palace's first-half efforts were a low shot from Sako that drew a routine save from Petr Cech and a deflected one from Zaha that fully extended the Arsenal goalkeeper. It was no surprise to see Hodgson send his players out early for the second period. Sometimes, there are no words.

Palace, who are hoping to sign the defender Jaroslaw Jach from Zaglebie Lubin and the midfielder Erdal Rakip on loan from Benfica, were better after the interval, although they could hardly have been any worse. Zaha wanted a penalty following a challenge from Mohamed Elneny while Sako found Benteke with a glorious ball on the break. Benteke could not beat Cech when one-on-one.

Palace's consolation came when Luka Milivojevic took a touch on his chest, spun and found the far corner. It rang hollow.

Sunday Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport