Palace put a dent in Arsenal’s Champions League ambitions

Patrick Vieira deals his former club a significant blow at Selhurst Park

Crystal Palace 3 Arsenal 0

Mikel Arteta will wonder where on earth this came from. Arsenal's apparent procession to the Champions League met a shuddering halt here and the concern will be that Crystal Palace deserved everything that came their way. The visitors turned in a thoroughly miserable display and were outplayed by opponents who simply performed better in every department.

Jean-Philippe Mateta, Jordan Ayew and a second-half Wilfried Zaha penalty ensured Patrick Vieira dealt his former club a significant blow; Tottenham remain in the top-four box seat for now and it would be as well to mark May 12th, the date three games from the end of the season when Antonio Conte's side will now host a rearranged north London derby, as a potentially decisive point in the race.

Mateta’s opener came with an element of luck but it was as much as Palace deserved for the kind of bright, high-tempo start usually associated with their opponents.

When Conor Gallagher swung a free-kick over from deep on the left, Joachim Andersen was facing away from the ball as he challenged Nuno Tavares at the far post. It struck him on the back of the head and, while he had undoubtedly intended to get some purchase, he could hardly have expected it to zip across the six-yard box and perfectly into Mateta's path. The centre forward could not miss and Aaron Ramsdale, back after a brief absence through injury, had no hope of stopping his header at point-blank range.

It was exactly the start Arsenal had not wanted. Palace had kept Manchester City at arm’s length here three weeks ago, in their most recent Premier League outing, while still packing something of a punch.

They began as if emboldened by that fact, never letting Arsenal settle and setting the tone within two minutes when Gallagher was not too far from dispossessing Ramsdale. Generally so composed at the back this season, Arsenal were jittery. Under no pressure, Ramsdale and Ben White both aimed wayward long passes all the way through to Vicente Guaita.

Palace had been disappointed by pre-match news that Michael Olise, who picked up a foot injury with France under-21s, would miss out; Zaha had recovered from his own knock in the international break, though, and was behind a number of their early left-sided incursions. When the second goal came, it was through the forward who had started on the opposite flank.

Arsenal's surprising pallor had been further evident when Alexandre Lacazette lost a 50/50 challenge too easily and, when the ball was worked back to Andersen, worse would follow. A flat, raking 40-yard pass from halfway was wonderfully executed but Gabriel Magalhães, sliding in, made a complete hash of his interception. It left Ayew in the clear; he beat Ramsdale confidently to his right and Palace, who simply looked the hungrier, had a level of reward they might not have imagined.

Perhaps Gabriel had been distracted by Nuno Tavares, who might have been better positioned to cut out Andersen's delivery but hesitated. Tavares was playing because Kieran Tierney had been laid low with a knee injury; that had been a blow for Arsenal but their flatness could hardly be attributed to the absence of a first-choice left back.

By half-time the sum total of their attacking endeavours had been a harmless header from Lacazette, and it was not hard to register the bemusement on Arteta's face as he conferred with his assistant, Albert Stuivenberg. A string of rash fouls could not mask their lack of aggression. Zaha set up Mateta for a shot that Ramsdale saved awkwardly and Palace, operating at a ferocious speed, were entirely worth their two-goal lead.

It was no surprise to see Arteta introduce Gabriel Martinelli, who could at least be guaranteed to run about, for the hapless Tavares. Granit Xhaka dropped in behind the Brazilian, who occupied the left flank in what was effectively now a four-man front line.

The other three, including Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, had yet to experience a sniff. Saka went down under a Cheikhou Kouyaté challenge in the 50th minute but a penalty was never on; there was less doubt when Thomas Partey committed his latest clumsy tackle on a marauding Jeffrey Schlupp just outside the box, but Ramsdale was equal to Andersen's free-kick.

By the hour a wayward Saka shot had been Arsenal's only glimmer. When they did muster something of consequence, Smith Rowe could only sidefoot at Guaita after Lacazatte had belatedly displayed some tenacity. Eddie Nketiah replaced Cedric Soares in a move towards all-out attack for the latter stages; Martin Ødegaard should have quickly reduced the deficit but pulled wide and for Arteta there were, at least, now signs of life.

They were extinguished when Ødegaard, tracking back as Zaha entered the box, took the winger’s legs away. Zaha beat Ramsdale from the spot and there could be no complaints from Arsenal about the award or, more pertinently, the game’s outcome. – Guardian