Monreal 6 Iwobi 10 Koscielny 13 Lacazette 22
CRYSTAL PALACE 1
BY ANTHONY SCALES AT THE EMIRATES STADIUM
Rarely can a top-flight manager in the supercharged Premier League era have been under so little pressure after seeing his side so comprehensively dismantled.
Roy Hodgson has performed a firefighting job even Big Sam Allardyce would be proud of in his short time back in South London and has credit in the bank with Crystal Palace’s owners and supporters as a result.
But make no mistake, the defending in the opening quarter of the game at the Emirates was truly shambolic. It was the sort of defensive display that, had it been offered up by, say, Southampton then it would have had supporters howling for Mauricio Pellegrino’s head – and Lord knows what would have happened to Arsene Wenger had the boot been on the other foot.
Arsenal’s attacking finesse when they are in the mood is undeniable but, the icing-on-the-cake fourth goal apart, Palace’s capitulation had as much to do with shoddy defending as the Gunners’ attacking riches.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah is at Palace to develop as a footballer and if young players learn from their trials, the 20-year-old Manchester United loanee has enough experience for a lifetime to take from his ordeal against Nacho Monreal on Saturday.
Time and again the Spaniard galloped into acres of space down the left to torment Palace, although it was by no means solely Fosu-Mensah’s positional lapses which ensured Palace were on the canvas after only 10 minutes.
Monreal escaped the attentions of James McArthur far too easily to score from Granit Xhaka’s fifth-minute corner and Luka Milivojevic had his back turned on Alex Iwobi five minutes later, after Monreal had zipped to the byline unopposed again. With just 13 minutes on the clock it was Martin Kelly’s turn, brushed aside dismissively by Laurent Koscielny as Palace abandoned ship defensively and Hodgson could only shudder in the dug-out.
Even the fourth goal – for all the beauty of Mesut Ozil’s sublime backheel – saw Fosu-Mensah react far too slowly to prevent Alexandre Lacazette firing past Wayne Hennessey, who must have felt like he’d ambled onto the wrong end of a driving range.
With Hodgson deprived of, arguably, his first-choice back four by a merciless injury crisis, there is little blame in being taken apart by a team as slick on the ball as Arsenal can be. The make-do-and-mend rearguard Hodgson has patched together of late has held together remarkably well as the Eagles have hoisted themselves out of the bottom three, and the manager should take great credit for the feat. The question now is whether Palace’s weekend surrender can be put down to facing one of the league’s big guns or whether the makeshift defence’s unlikely aura of invincibility has been popped.
Until the first 22 minutes in north London, Palace were on a seemingly inexorable climb away from danger but the trip to West Ham at the end of the month has now taken on a new-found significance.
Perform well enough – even if they end up losing at the London Stadium – and the evisceration at the Emirates can be put behind them, but should Palace fall apart again at set-pieces in such dramatic fashion, the situation could quickly take on the feeling of a fresh crisis.
By that stage, of course, there will only be 24 hours or so to have recourse to the transfer market, and though players and managers habitually refer to putting in work on the training ground, the preparations Hodgson and his charges make at Beckenham over the next few days could define their season.