Arsenal 4 - Crystal Palace 1: An emphatic first win of the New Year does not definitively prove there is a bright future for Arsenal without Alexis Sanchez but manager Arsene Wenger confirmed his players had been destabilised by the uncertainty over the Chilean’s transfer to Manchester United.
This first post-Sanchez era display, in which Arsenal’s players seemed unshackled in scoring four goals in the opening 22 minutes, suggested a level of toxicity had been removed from the club’s dressing room.
But after revealing the club was ultimately powerless to prevent their star player from leaving, Wenger admitted later that only time would tell if he had made the right decision in bringing in Henrikh Mkhitaryan in exchange.
The French coach explained how trying to make Sanchez Arsenal’s best ever paid player was still not enough to match the terms Manchester United were prepared to pay to a footballer getting the last major deal of his career.
He said: “We did what we could do and went as far as we could go and even Manchester City moved out of it in the end which tells you we had no chance to give him a contract.
“He is professional and it is his last contract at the top level so an important contract. So after that I accepted to let him go.
“There is always life after for a football club that is 130 years old when players leave. Will we be less good? We will see, but there is always life after us.
“We have a strong squad and do not depend on one player — do not forget that when he goes someone else is coming in and we have gained a player and are still trying to bring in other players.
“The advantage is that we have a player joining on a long contract and is committed to do well.
“We tried to find the best possible solution and we didn’t want to lose a world class player without getting someone else. The future will tell if it’s the right answer.”
There is no debating that last statement and the next test will be Wednesday’s second leg of the League Cup semi-final, following a goalless draw at Chelsea, in which Arsenal’s new Armenian signing may be involved.
And Wenger said he would have no problem in playing him in the same side as a similar player such as Mesut Ozil, who ran this match with such panache Arsenal will be facing increased pressure to pay the German international whatever he wants to renew his contract this summer.
“How do I fit him in?” Wenger pondered. “I will just play all the good players as they can always play together. Iwobi, Ozil, Wilshere, Lacazette, and Xhaka all played well together in this match.”
Arsenal’s attacking flare aside, the match was effectively won by a defender as Nacho Monreal marked his return to fitness by heading in the opener before providing assists for Alex Iwobi and then Laurent Koscielny to score before Alex Lacazette cracked in the pick of the bunch from a sublime Ozil flick.
Wenger laughed off questions over how he would fit Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang into his line-up if successful with a £50m-plus bid for the Borussia Dortmund striker this week, saying it was a problem he did not yet have.
The only consolation for Palace manager Roy Hodgson, who confirmed the club had signed Poland centre-back Jaroslaw Jach while looking to bring in at least one or two back-up players from Sweden too, was they showed resilience after the break to not concede further goals and get one back through Luka Milivojevic. It is the same determination Hodgson and the Palace owners, he claims, have to to keep star players such as Wilf Zaha and Christian Benteke from leaving in the January window.
Both players were below par in this match but have been integral in Palace’s climb out of the relegation zone, with Zaha, in particular, a man in demand.
Hodgson said: “We realise we have a prize asset on our hands and a day might come when people try to take him off us, but he has shown no desire to leave and we are not going to let him go. We will cling on to him with as much tenacity as we can so anything else is pure speculation.”
Discussing Chelsea’s interest in Benteke, he added: “He will stay whether they have any interest or not.”
Cech 7; Bellerin 7, Mustafi 6, Koscielny 7, Monreal 8 (Maitland-Niles 34, 6); Elneny 6, Xhaka 6; Iwobi 7 (Kolasinac 82, 5), Wilshere 8, Ozil 9 (Nelson 72, 6); Lacazette 7.
Ospina, Chambers, Nketiah, Mertesacker, Chambers.
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-2-3-1):
Hennessey 5, Fosu-Mensah 5, Kelly 5, Tomkins 5, van Aanholt 6; McArthur 6, Milivojevic 6; Zaha 5, Cabaye 5 (Riedewald 90), Sako 5; Benteke 5.
Speroni, Ward, Townsend, Chung-Yong, Souare, Delaney.
Chris Kavanagh 6.
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