Before we get into the match report here, there’s something that needs to be said. Last night’s match was the last home game of Roy Hodgson’s career and Sunday will be his final time as manager in the modern game after he announced his retirement.
It’s rare to come across men who have impacted football the way that Roy Hodgson has. While Arsenal’s very own Arsène Wenger normalised the idea of a foreign coach in the Premier League, Hodgson normalised the idea of an Englishman abroad and his legacy as a coach is as undisputed as his class and as great as it was that fans can be back in stadiums, it’s a shame that so few were allowed to wave goodbye to one of the greatest managers football has ever known.
Now, back to the action.
On the back of an entirely undeserved victory over Chelsea, Arsenal encountered their second London derby in as many weeks. While Arsenal fans are all scrambling for this season to be over, there is still a certain amount of pride left to play for and the chance to possibly leapfrog their great rivals, Tottenham Hotspur.
Arsenal started well. A number of quick and precise attacks seemed to show Palace what Arsenal were capable of. Though Palace had a few chances of their own, it was Arsenal who looked the more likely to score, dominating possession and keeping the midfield as tight and compact as possible.
It therefore came as no surprise to see Arsenal take the lead. Quick play down the left-hand side by Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney saw an intricately mesmeric move come to a flourishing end as Nicolas Pépé latched onto Tierney’s cross to bundle Arsenal into a deserved lead.
It was a stunning Arsenal move that had everyone off their feet and seemed to dispell the notion that Arsenal were unable to create.
The second half however, brought a very different story. Arsenal completely took their foot off the gas and Palace hit them hard. With the added bonus of having their fans back in the stadium, Crystal Palace fought hard to pin Arsenal back. Their efforts were soon rewarded as Andros Townsend’s cross found its way into the box and Christian Benteke headed the ball home for a Palace equaliser in the Ian Wright derby.
It will be a controversial decision for Arsenal fans, who would argue that Benteke was lucky to remain on the pitch following a controversial tussle with Mohamed Elneny in the first-half which Var inexplicably failed to turn over.
VAR decisions aside, Arsenal looked decidedly run through. Wilfried Zaha’s tendency to fall to the ground in the box was starting to give Arsenal a route back into the game as the Ivorian focused more on pantomime theatrics than actual goals.
A few sweeping changes by Mikel Arteta saw Arsenal regain a slight foothold. The pace and power of Gabriel Martinelli, the intricacy of Martin Ødegaard and the firm approach of Granit Xhaka appeared to be exactly what Arsenal needed.
The former two combined beautifully in the dying embers of the match as Ødegaard drifted in a sumptuous ball that would have had Mesut Özil on his feet, which was met by Martinelli who scrambled the ball in to give Arsenal a not entirely deserved would-be winner.
Palace heads dropped and Arsenal were able to round off the scoring nicely with a superb run from Nicolas Pépé, who rounded thee Palace players before doubling his tally for the game.
It was hardly a vintage Arsenal performance, but the three points are all that matters and Arsenal have those.
VAR was once again shrouded in controversy as Crystal Palace were granted two VAR reprieves. The aforementioned incident with Christian Benteke and Mohamed Elneny was matched by an earlier incident wherein Cheikhou Kouyaté crushed Calum Chambers’ ankle in an early tackle which was bizarelly not given a red card by VAR or on-pitch referee Anthony Taylor.
It was an infuriating call, especially as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had been dismissed for the same tackle at the same ground last season.
It was another promising showing for Arsenal’s youngsters. While Bukayo Saka was perhaps not at his very best on Wednesday night, Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli more than made up for it, combining well and creating chances galore for Arsenal.
Thankfully, the season draws to a merciful end on Sunday and Mikel Arteta will be glad to know that Arsenal fans are back in the stadium for Sunday’s match against Brighton & Hove Albion, but more importantly, that focus can begin for next season as Arsenal look to right the wrongs of this unacceptable season.
1.) Bernd Leno
21.) Calum Chambers
16.) Rob Holding
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney (Xhaka 78’)
25.) Mohamed Elneny
18.) Thomas Partey (Martinelli 78’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé
32.) Emile Smith Rowe
7.) Bukayo Saka (Ødegaard 65’)
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
33.) Maty Ryan
22.) Pablo Marí
17.) Cédric Soares
34.) Granit Xhaka
8.) Dani Ceballos
11.) Martin Ødegaard
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
Crystal Palace team:
31.) Vincente Guaita
2.) Joel Ward
5.) James Tomkins
24.) Gary Cahill
27.) Tyrick Mitchell
8.) Cheikhou Kouyaté
22.) James McCarthy (Riedewald 82’)
15.) Jeffery Schlupp
10.) Andros Townsend
11.) Wilfried Zaha
20.) Christian Benteke (Ayew 79’)
Crystal Palace subs:
1.) Jack Butland
34.) Martin Kelly
17.) Nathaniel Clyne
3.) Patrick van Aanholt
39.) Jesurun Rak-Sakyi
44.) Jaïro Riedewald
14.) Jean-Philippe Mateta
23.) Michy Batshuayi
9.) Jordan Ayew