A spineless, directionless, display ended in a humiliating, fourth successive away defeat that prompted chants of ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’ from the visiting supporters. Still seven points behind Manchester City who occupy fourth place, the chances of Arsenal missing out on the top four for the first time since Wenger arrived in north London are rising with every passing game.
Sam Allardyce said: “We all know Arsenal are in a poor spell of results. Every player feels the frailties of that. But the only way you can take advantage of that is to work hard and shut them down.”
Arsenal arrived at Selhurst Park just 45 minutes before kick-off. The insipid performance of Wenger’s side suggested most would have preferred not to have arrived at all. Overwhelmed by a Crystal Palace side who moved six points clear of the bottom three, the Gunners were set on their heels by Andros Townsend’s 17th minute opening goal and killed off by Yohan Cabaye’s 63rd minute second and Luke Milivujevic’s penalty five minutes later.
Tellingly, and depressingly from Wenger’s point of view, Arsenal never looked capable of mustering the spirit required to fightback. Whatever happens to the manager this summer, it is clear a major overhaul of the squad is required.
Yet while Arsenal looked like a side lacking cohesion, Palace gave the impression of a group of players galvanised by the task that lies ahead. Having stunned Chelsea by winning at Stamford Bridge, they again appeared undaunted by the prospect of facing another heavyweight.
The home side’s approach was clear, with Palace aiming to target Christian Benteke with early, long balls as often as possible, and utilise the pace of Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha in support of the central striker. It became clear just as quickly this would cause problems for an Arsenal backline that was again missing Laurent Koscielny.
Shkodran Mustafi was soon wrong-footed by Benteke and fortunate to escape a yellow card for bringing down the forward who still managed to set up Luka Milivojevic for a shot that drifted narrowly wide. Mustafi would eventually be booked for a similar offence, but by then the Arsenal backline had been breached by Palace’s effective, direct tactics.
A long goal kick by Wayne Hennessey was headed on by Benteke, with Townsend collecting the loose ball and exchanging passes with Yohan Cabaye. Cabaye released Zaha on the right hand side of the penalty area and the winger managed to deliver a low shot, despite losing his footing, that was met by Townsend’s first time shot. Emiliano Martinez had no chance of denying Palace an opening goal and Arsenal were behind after just 17 minutes.
A response was only to be expected, yet, while Wenger’s side dominated possession, Danny Welbeck, picked ahead of Olivier Giroud, made little impression on the home back-four and, while Alexis Sanchez had the best of the visitors’s chances, he too looked below his best.
Also, while the Arsenal defence appeared frail, the home backline looked as though they had been watching re-runs of the stirring rearguard display that secured three points at Stamford Bridge nine days previously. In particular, Mamadou Sakho was determined to do all he could to protect Hennessey’s goal, including at one stage throwing himself full length into the path of a Sanchez close range shot that would otherwise have brought an equaliser.
How Wenger must have wished he had a Sakho in the heart of his own back-four. Instead, it was left to Martinez, again deputising for the injured Petr Cech and David Ospina, to prevent Benteke from doubling the lead with a fine save from a tight angle.
The start of the second half confirmed any fears Allardyce’s side may have had about facing Arsenal had disappeared. It took a fine block by Hector Bellerin to deny Benteke’s shot before the forward was ruled offside when he finished after Martinez parried Townsend’s shot.
The second goal came in the 63rd minute, with Benteke again winning a header, Townsend finding Zaha, and the winger pulling the ball back into the path of Cabaye, who looped his shot over Martinez. Then, five minutes later, Palace extended the lead further when Townsend went to ground as he reached a loose ball at the same time as Martinez. There was no contact, but referee Michael Oliver saw enough to award the penalty that was converted by Milivujevic.
Having failed to trouble Palace before that point, Arsenal were never likely to come back into the game.
Hennessey 7; Ward 7, Kelly 7, Sakho 9, Schlupp 7; Cabaye 7 (McArthur 74,6), Milivojevic 8 (Flamini 82,6); Zaha 8, Puncheon 7, Townsend 8; Benteke 7.
Martinez 7; Bellerin 7, Mustafi 5, Gabriel 5, Monreal 5; Xhaka 5, Elneny 5 (Ramsey 59,6); Walcott 4 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 69,6), Ozil 4, Sanchez 7; Welbeck 5 (Giroud 59,6).
Michael Oliver 6