Arsenal’s bid for Champions League football next season took a damaging blow after a thrilling defeat to Crystal Palace on a sun-drenched afternoon at the Emirates.
Arsenal paid the price for a dreadful first-half performance in particular and some bizarre team selections as Jenkinson, Elneny and Guendouzi started the game in the absence of Ramsey, Xhaka and Monreal.
Crystal Palace took the lead through Christian Benteke’s first goal since April 28th last year. Arsenal struggled in the first half with their back five and holding midfielders swamped and the front three of Aubameyang, Lacazette and Ozil marooned leaving a gap in midfield which Milivojevic and McArthur exploited.
Arsenal were lucky to be still in the game at half time and were back in it after the break as Ozil finished a superb Lacazette reverse pass with his trademark bounce finish into the floor and over the keeper.
Any thoughts of a comeback win were quickly dismissed though after a trademark Mustafi blunder which allowed Zaha to fire home. Roy Hodgson’s side extended their lead through James McArthur before Pierre Emerick Aubameyang sparked a nervy finish with a superb goal.
Crystal Palace held on though to move into 12th whilst Arsenal stay in 4th leaving themselves vulnerable to Chelsea and Manchester United catching them for Champions League next season.
Mustafi an increasing liability
This Arsenal talking points section has become a consistent place for criticism of the German centre back but Sunday’s performance can not be ignored. Mustafi has been carried by Sokratis and Koscielny all season and as Arsenal were missing both on Sunday, the German was an erratic mess. His decision making has been poor for a while and it appears his body couldn’t react even if he knew the correct way to defend.
His defending for Zaha’s goal summed him up, in a good starting position Mustafi hesitated and was then outmuscled and out paced by Zaha leaving Mustafi looking like a man who had consumed too many Easter eggs as Zaha thumped home. Mustafi capped off his performance with an pitiful dive and remains top of the list for a summer transfer.
Emery still in transition
Much has been made of Arsenal’s transformation this season as Arsenal battle for a top four spot and a Europa League trophy. Both accomplishments would be a huge overachievement in Emery’s first season. However as the battle for top four becomes a battle of mediocrity, Emery appears to be struggling to pick his best team on a week by week basis.
The midfield flits between Torreira, Xhaka and Ramsey to Elneny and Guendouzi with seemingly no logic, Jenkinson played on Sunday after a long absence too as Aubameyang and Lacazette were paired together for the first time in six league games. Emery deserves time and benefit of the doubt after taking over from the legend Wenger, and his bid for top four and a Europa League trophy could both easily still happen but Emery’s tendency to tinker could be a worry long term.
Crystal Palace an enigma
For the third time this season Crystal Palace scored three goals away to the top six. With a solid defence, two great wing backs in Wan Bissaka – who was superb again and emphasised how bizarre his omission from the player of the year shortlists was – and Van Aarnholt, a midfielder as streetwise and technically gifted as Milivojevic and a forward as thrilling as Zaha, their position as relegation candidates is at best a puzzling shame and at worst a downright dereliction of ambition.
With Premier League football secure next season, Roy Hodgson owes it to one of the league’s best set of fans to break into the top half given the talent at his disposal.
Wilfried Zaha – a top-six player
Zaha was at his elusive best again on Sunday, especially when scoring the second goal. Zaha remains continually linked with a move away from Crystal Palace and the suspicion remains he is far too good be the best player in the bottom half of the table.
Zaha scored the go ahead goal at 1-1, created three chances, a 91% pass rate, won five fouls and had three take ons as he ran Arsenal ragged – based on Sunday he would certainly improve the squad of his opponents today, as he would of Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United. How long is Zaha happy staying at Crystal Palace? Performances like Sunday make it increasingly likely he leaves.
Hennessey an embarrassment
Wayne Hennessey was a substitute on Sunday meaning he has time for History homework. Crystal Palace and Roy Hodgson have perhaps understandably defended their player but the goalkeepers excuse that he had never heard of Hitler was idiotic and Roy Hodgson’s line that Hennessey is desperate to learn embarrasses a great manager whilst Wayne Hennessey should be ashamed of himself for his excuse and behaviour since the incident.