Arsenal cruised to a 4-1 victory at home to manager-less and winless Crystal Palace on Sunday afternoon, extending their lead at the Premier League summit to eight points going into the international break.
With ten games of the season left to play, Arsenal have already matched the points tally they accrued across the entirety of the previous campaign, taking advantage of Manchester City’s FA Cup duties to widen the gap at the top of the table and extend Crystal Palace’s wait for a win to 12 matches in 2023.
The Emirates crowd burst into a spirited rendition of Patrick Vieira’s chant at kick-off, but Palace started sharply in their first game since the former Arsenal captain was sacked as Eagles manager on Friday.
Attacking with purpose and pace in transition, Wilfried Zaha struck the base of a post after ten minutes, watching on in agony as the ball ricochetted onto Aaron Ramsdale and behind for a corner. Just a month ago, Arsenal beat Aston Villa when Jorginho’s effort cannoned off the woodwork and over the line via Emi Martinez’s back. These are the razor-thin margins that define a luck-riddled sport like football.
There was more flair than good fortune about Arsenal’s opener. Gabriel Martinelli collected the ball with Joel Ward squarely between himself and the goal but one touch and a searing step of speed swiftly changed that, giving Arsenal’s Brazilian enough of an angle to rip a left-footed effort beyond Palace’s teenage goalkeeper Joe Whitworth inside the opening half-hour.
Arsenal kept their boot pressed so firmly on Palace’s throat the stud marks may last until the other side of the international break. Bukayo Saka embodied his side’s relentlessness by keeping an attack alive in the closing stages of the first half. Playing a one-two around Zaha, Saka scurried goal-side, bending his run to stay onside before slipping a cool finish into the far corner.
The fluency and flexibility of Arsenal’s well-honed system ripped apart the side watched over by interim boss Patrick McCarthy. With Martinelli dragging Joel Ward wide while standing on the left touchline and Leandro Trossard distracting James Tomkins buzzing between the lines, Oleksandr Zinchenko – who bamboozles everyone with his unorthodox positioning – slipped Granit Xhaka into the space Arsenal’s preplanned movement had chiselled open. The Swiss midfielder exchanged passes with Trossard into Palace’s box before bundling in his second goal in three days.
Palace, eager to impress any prospective manager that may be watching from afar, had started the second half sharply. The Eagles duly reduced the deficit when Jeffrey Schlupp scrambled the ball over the line from a scrum at a 63rd-minute corner.
Zaha dragged a shot narrowly wide soon after but Arsenal quashed any whisper of an unlikely comeback with a fourth goal of a commanding display. Palace repeatedly failed to get the ball out of their own penalty area, giving Kieran Tierney one too many attempts to pick out Saka, waiting at the top of the box to sweep in his second of the afternoon and seal three more points.
GK: Aaron Ramsdale – 5/10 – Not at his assertive best but not overly tested.
RB: Ben White – 8/10 – Uncertain when back-pedalling against Zaha but dovetailed with Saka superbly in the final third.
CB: Rob Holding – 5/10 – Eager to launch his considerable frame into a raft of challenges which weren’t always timed well.
CB: Gabriel – 6/10 – Carried out what little defensive work he had without a fuss.
LB: Oleksandr Zinchenko – 8/10 – Brilliantly adept at threading the ball between Palace’s black shirts.
CM: Martin Odegaard – 6/10 – Floating around the final third with an ephemeral menace.
CM: Thomas Partey – 7/10 – Initially unsettled by the close attention he received but brushed off that pressure to dictate from the base of midfield.
CM: Granit Xhaka – 8/10 – Galloped into Palace’s box at will, adding another Arsenal shirt to the swarm of crimson swamping the visitors.
RW: Bukayo Saka – 9/10 – A perennial spoke in the opposition’s wheel, displaying great strength as well as subtlety.
ST: Leandro Trossard – 6/10 – Lost focus arguing with the referee in a tetchy display spent largely as a decoy.
LW: Gabriel Martinelli – 8/10 – Marking Martinelli in recent weeks has been like trying to pin a wave to the sand.
Gabriel Jesus (65′ for Trossard) – 5/10
Kieran Tierney (65′ for Zinchenko) – 5/10
Jorginho (83′ for White) – N/A
Emile Smith Rowe (83′ for Martinelli) – N/A
Jakub Kiwior (86′ for Gabriel) – N/A
Mikel Arteta – 8/10 – The third goal will have particularly thrilled Arteta as Arsenal’s prescribed positional play teased Palace open. It was a display that banished any hint of disappointment that may have lingered from the Europa League exit on Thursday.
GK: Joe Whitworth – 5/10 – The 19-year-old could scarcely be blamed for any of Arsenal’s goals.
RB: Joel Ward – 3/10 – Made to look far more senior than his actual 33 years as Martinelli gave him an unforgiving runaround.
CB: James Tomkins – 3/10 – A late replacement for Joachim Andersen who injured himself in the warmup, Tomkins looked very much like the second choice.
CB: Marc Guehi – 5/10 – Left the proactive stepping forward to Tomkins, holding his position in the middle of Palace’s breached back four.
LB: Tyrick Mitchell – 4/10 – Lumbered with the unrewarding task of muzzling Saka, Mitchell was not the first fullback to fail and will surely not be the last.
CM: Luka Milivojevic – 4/10 – Spent more time literally pointing out the danger posed by the red shirts rather than trying to snuff it out himself.
CM: Cheick Doucoure – 5/10 – Got a crucial toe to several balls but couldn’t stem the entire flood of Arsenal’s attacks.
AM: Jeffrey Schlupp – 6/10 – Quick to identify Partey’s aftershave with a tight marking brief on Arsenal’s pivot but struggled to stick with the midfielder for the whole match.
RW: Michael Olise – 5/10 – Tracked back more diligently than Zaha but his mistimed tackles betrayed his status as a natural forward.
ST: Odsonne Edouard – 6/10 – Held onto possession well but was not the target of many passes.
LW: Wilfried Zaha – 3/10 – A sporadic threat going forward but switched off for both of Arsenal’s first-half goals.
Jordan Ayew (65′ for Edouard) – 5/10
Will Hughes (65′ for Milivojevic) – 5/10
Ebere Eze (82′ for Olise) – N/A
Naouirou Ahamada (82′ for Schlupp) – N/A
Patrick McCarthy – 4/10 – Clearly had an impact with his team talk before each half but the message didn’t stick throughout the 90 minutes.