Crystal Palace humiliate Arsenal as spotlight increases on Wenger

Palace goals from Townsend, Cabaye and Milivojevic saw off a hapless Gunners side

Crystal Palace 3 Arsenal 0

In the end the only vague consolation for Arsène Wenger was the fact the delirious din whipped up by the majority at the final whistle served to drown out the livid frustration still pouring from the away section. Participation in next season’s Champions League feels like a pipedream for Arsenal, seven points behind fourth place, and utterly rudderless. It is just about excusable to labour in contests against elite opposition, but they were thrashed here by Crystal Palace. Local delight was born of a win that took the hosts further from the relegation places.

This performance, the type which would normally make a manager’s position untenable, will haunt Wenger. His team were feeble from the first minute, and long since overwhelmed by the last. They have not won a league fixture away from the Emirates Stadium since mid-January and even a scoreline this emphatic flattered their wretched display. Alexis Sánchez was holding his head in his hands before the end, a pose which is becoming excruciatingly familiar, while Wenger looked lost. Something surely needs to change.

Arsenal have made this arena feel like home over the years, their only defeat here inflicted by Terry Venables’ so-called Team of the Eighties, with Wenger’s charges so often using trips to this corner of south London as a means of kickstarting revivals. This was all billed to be their latest, confidence apparently pepped by that saunter past West Ham United last midweek and the driving need to eat into that worrying gap to the top four. Yet there had been a raggedness to their approach from the outset which betrayed underlying fragility. Where Palace were urgent and aggressive, the visitors, perhaps unsettled by their arrival at the ground only 45 minutes before kick-off, rather dithered through the opening period.


There was little rhythm to their play and too many unenforced errors across their back-line, sloppiness creeping into their possession and nerves biting whenever Andros Townsend tore at them or Palace launched passes towards Christian Benteke. Shkodran Mustafi seemed particularly unsettled by the Belgian's muscular presence and, for all that Arsenal inevitably carried their own potent threat going forward, it did not feel surprising to see them trail at the interval. Luka Milivojevic and Yohan Cabaye had already spurned fine opportunities, the midfielders granted far too much time to weigh up their shots, by the time Benteke's latest flick on a Wayne Hennessey punt prompted panic just after the quarter-hour mark.

Townsend and Cabaye exchanged neat passes on the edge of the Arsenal box, easing the ball wide for Wilfried Zaha with the visitors gasping in a game of catch-up. The winger actually seemed to slip as he squared into the six-yard box, but Arsenal had long since lost their discipline and Townsend was unmarked to convert. The England winger's upturn in form over recent weeks has contributed heavily to Palace's scuttle away from the foot. He worked feverishly here attempting to check Héctor Bellerín's marauding runs at source, but that industry was typical of his team's collective approach.

They had needed that diligence, particularly whenever Sánchez foraged out the ball. The Chilean curled just wide of the far post with Hennessey static, the Wales international having been more proactive in pushing aside Mohamed Elneny’s attempt. Wenger would still have expected so much more, and was never likely to tolerate such slackness to his team’s approach after the break. Yet the vulnerability remained.

It took Bellerín’s desperate lunge to deny Benteke after Zaha had sprinted effortlessly away from Nacho Monreal on the opposite flank. Moments later the striker had the ball in the net after Martínez parried out Townsend’s attempt, only for an assistant referee’s flag to choke the celebrations.

These were not isolated opportunities, with Arsenal almost permanently stretched against a team who have languished for virtually the entire campaign near the foot of the table, and lessons were not being learned.

The contest had crept beyond the hour-mark, with Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey flung on in search of parity, when Townsend out-fought his marker at a throw-in and fed Zaha. The winger sprinted into space down the right and, rather than sliding across for Benteke, pulled his ball back to the top of the box. There loitered Cabaye to clip a glorious first-time shot over Martínez and in.

The goalkeeper’s misery was not yet complete. Within minutes Arsenal had been flummoxed yet again by a Benteke flick, the tireless Townsend sprinting round Bellerín and crumpling over Martínez’s touch as the goalkeeper dived in. The resultant penalty was dispatched by Milivojevic with glee and Wenger, ashen faced, sunk further into his training coat and the first choruses of “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” were mustered by the travelling support.

That became more spiteful while the visitors mounted late pressure which meant absolutely nothing and yielded even less. This was shambolic. While Palace rejoiced in their most impressive win since returning to the top flight, Arsenal could not escape soon enough. This was a humiliation.

(Guardian service)