Arsenal bounced back to winning ways in nervy fashion on Thursday as they held off a late Crystal Palace charge to grab all three points at Selhurst Park.
The visitors took charge of the game in the first half, grabbing the bulk of the big chances. The likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and Hector Bellerin all came within inches of scoring, but it was an unlikely source that broke the deadlock.
Midway through the first half, Shkodran Mustafi scored from a composed close-range finish after Lacazette’s cross-cum-shot was parried his way by Julian Speroni. Palace levelled things up just four minutes into the second half as Andros Townsend scored from Wilfried Zaha’s pass.
But a quickfire brace by Alexis Sanchez would give Arsenal an unassailable lead. The Chilean first scored a thumping half volley from Lacazette’s layoff before collecting Jack Wilshere’s sublime long ball, rounding off Speroni for his second of the night.
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) December 28, 2017
The Eagles pulled one back in the penultimate minute of regulation time through James Tomkins, but that was about it as their eight-game unbeaten run came to an end. Arsenal, on the other hand, climbed up to 6th on the Premier League, just a point outside top four. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Arsene Wenger’s men.
Petr Cech: 6/10
Cech did concede two goals on the night, but he did not have much of a chance to stop either of them due to the poor defending in front of him, although he could have reacted better in both the moments. Other than the two goals, there was barely anything troubling him, with Arsenal dominating the proceedings.
Calum Chambers: 7/10
Back in the side and making his first Premier League start of the season, Chambers gave a good account of himself. The young Englishman had his hands full with the pace and trickery of Zaha, but he was equal to the winger’s threat for the most part.
All in all, there was very barely any negatives to the player’s outing, but if we are nitpicking, he could have closed down Zaha better in the build up to Townsend’s goal.
Shkodran Mustafi: 7.5/10
Another player who was back in the starting lineup, Mustafi was the best Arsenal defender on Thursday. The German defender kept Christian Benteke quiet on the night, rendering him to be a passenger. He also produced a tidy finish to break the deadlock, and brought about a sense of composure in the back-three.
— afcstuff (@afcstuff) December 28, 2017
Nearly faultless on the night, although Mustafi, like the rest of his partners at the back, was caught flat-footed for Townsend’s goal. His return bodes well for Arsenal though, as he brings an added element of solidity for Wenger & co.
Laurent Koscielny: 6/10
Koscielny was much improved than some of his recent outings, but he still looks some way off his best. The Frenchman put in a decent shift, and wasn’t troubled a lot, but he should have done better to stop Townsend in his track for Palace’s opener. The shift to a back-three should work in his favour though, going forward.
Hector Bellerin: 6.5/10
Bellerin had a very blow-hot blow-cold outing on the night. While the Spaniard was a constant threat going forward, also coming close to grabbing a goal for himself, it was his performance at the back that is screaming for improvement.
The player struggled to contain a rampaging Zaha for the most part, often leaving Chambers with a lot to do. Nevertheless, he seems to be working hard and should do better when games aren’t coming thick and fast.
Jack Wilshere: 8/10
Wilshere rolled back the years on Thursday, and in some style. The player provided Arsenal the control they needed from midfield to dominate the game, and a 93 per cent pass accuracy is evidence enough of that. He did lose possession in sloppy fashion at times, but as Wenger has remarked recently, he is still working his way back to peak sharpness.
Jack Wilshere with the best pass accuracy on the pitch tonight as it stands (94.3%).
He’s also won the ball more than anyone (9) and earned more fouls too (6). pic.twitter.com/U1ugRhzCXY
— Chris Wheatley (@ChrisWheatley_) December 28, 2017
The Englishman boasted the moment of the night though, lobbing the ball over the entire Palace midfield and defence in stunning fashion for Sanchez to score his second. A performance that showed just why Wenger needs to renew his contract, and why he must be on the flight to Russia for the World Cup.
Granit Xhaka: 7/10
Xhaka, too, was fantastic on Thursday. Alongside Wilshere, the Swiss ran the show and produced one of his best performances of the season. With a 90 per cent pass rate, he was at ease against the Eagles while also recovering the ball extremely well in defence. Such performances show why Wenger continues to impose his faith in the player.
Sead Kolasinac: 6.5/10
Back in the side after a couple of weeks on the bench, Kolasinac looked a little rusty. The Bosnian was a factor going forward, showing his impeccable understanding with Sanchez. But, he needs to improve defensively, as has been pointed out by the Arsenal boss, evident in the way he let Townsend have a free run before scoring the first goal for Palace.
Mesut Ozil: 7/10
With Wilshere and Xhaka performing so well, Ozil did not have to drop deep as much as recent weeks, which helped him be even more creative than usual. The German linked well with every teammate, and created the most chances in the game. But, his finishing was slightly off on the night, coming within inches of scoring twice.
Alexis Sanchez: 8.5/10
Criticised this season for being a shadow of his electric best, the 2016-17 Sanchez was on display on Thursday. After a slightly below par first half, the Chilean seemed to be in the mood for the final 45 minutes, running with purpose and giving the Palace defence many a jittery moment.
Alexis Sánchez vs Crystal Palace A
4 shots (3 OT)
5 dribbles completed
2 chances created
— 7 (@drinalexis) December 28, 2017
He ended the night with two goals, both of them being truly remarkable. The first was a delightful half volley that Speroni had no chance against, while the second saw him control the ball oh-so-well before showing a lot of composure to score past the Palace number one.
Alexandre Lacazette: 7.5/10
The Frenchman might not have had a goal to show for his efforts on the night, but he was still a factor all the same. His cross-cum-shot resulted in Arsenal’s first before he laid the ball off towards Sanchez to score his side’s second.
Lacazette is a proponent of brilliant link up play, although a return to goalscoring ways would be quite refreshing. He certainly is edging closer to scoring, having narrowly lashed a shot wide in the first half after showing some incredible footwork.