Ozil 47 Aubameyang 77
CRYSTAL PALACE 3
Benteke 17 Zaha 61 McArthur 69
BY MATT WOOSNAM AT EMIRATES STADIUM
Crystal Palace pulled off a first away win against Arsenal for 25 years. Their away form has been exceptional and this was their second-best result of the season, only behind the victory at Manchester City.
If only they could find a way to transform their dismal record at Selhurst Park.
During times of uncertainty, adversity and trouble, the support of team-mates, supporters and coaches is crucial – and that rang true for Christian Benteke.
Just shy of a year since his last goal, he headed past Bernd Leno to break his hoodoo and set Crystal Palace on their way to bagging the three points in north London.
At the Emirates, a stadium at which they had never before emerged victorious, the Eagles came out fighting.
In previous weeks they were meek, succumbing to Tottenham and Manchester City without so much as a whimper, but here they took an alternative, more ambitious approach. It reaped its rewards thanks to a set-piece masterclass which – with the aid of some abysmal defending – yielded three goals.
One week short of a calendar year since the last time he was able to celebrate finding the back of the net, Benteke powered in a header from Luka Milivojevic’s free-kick on 17 minutes, played onside by Carl Jenkinson and left unmarked.
If there was time to consider the relief he must have felt upon finding his feet in recent weeks, then maybe the thought may have crossed his mind as to the future.
For recently, he has proven to be a better option leading the line than Chelsea loanee Michy Batshuayi.
That has something to do with Roy Hodgson’s tactics, but nonetheless he has proven to be effective, putting in a strong performance with little service against Manchester City, and, a slip aside when well-placed, doing reasonably well against Newcastle United.
Benteke seems to be the better option for now.
Yet when Wilfried Zaha squared for him in stoppage time in the first-half, he fluffed his lines. This was the best and the worst of Benteke in one afternoon. A reminder not to get carried away.
With Premier League safety more or less secured, Hodgson elected to change things around.
Jeffrey Schlupp’s injury picked up in the 3-1 defeat by Manchester City last week was the only enforced change as Andros Townsend and Patrick van Aanholt dropped to the bench in favour of Max Meyer and Joel Ward respectively.
That the Dutch left-back has been removed from the starting 11 despite Palace having no alternative options there provides a strong hint that his manager is not content with his continued below-par performances.
With a natural right-footer in his place, Palace may well be open to offers this summer for the former Chelsea and Sunderland man.
As it turned out, Ward was almost faultless.
Mesut Ozil struck an effort straight at Vicente Guaita inside the opening minute, with Matteo Guendouzi wasting a half-chance from Carl Jenkinson’s cross 10 minutes later. That, and atrocious defending, proved the story of the afternoon.
The Gunners ought to have fallen behind earlier than they did, when a corner found Scott Dann unmarked at the back post, only for his header to be turned behind for a goal-kick by Ward, unable to convert.
Konstantinos Mavropanos waltzed through several Palace players, only to drag a shot comfortably wide midway through the first half, and the hosts enjoyed the majority of possession, but failed to use it effectively. Just before half-time Alexandre Lacazette spun and blasted a shot over Guaita’s crossbar, the Spanish goalkeeper having barely a save to make.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka earlier appeared to handle the ball from a cross, inside the penalty area, but referee Jon Moss surprisingly deemed it not to be a penalty.
The hosts were grateful for two excellent stops from Leno after Cheikhou Kouyate’s initial close-range effort and subsequent follow-up.
That double save would prove crucial as the Gunners came out and equalised almost immediately after the break. Lacazette played a perfect ball to Ozil, who fired past Guaita at his near post with aplomb.
Zaha would fire Palace back into the lead on the hour mark in controversial circumstances. Moss awarded a free-kick when Milivojevic and McArthur appeared to get in each others’ way, but he adjudged Lacazette to have fouled the Eagles’ skipper.
As with the opening goal, the Arsenal defence was half-asleep.
Benteke nodded on the free-kick and Zaha got in behind to slot past Leno with a composed finish. The big centre-forward-nippy striker front-two approach worked perfectly. Route one at its best.
Amazingly the Gunners’ defending got worse. Dann nodded a corner towards goal where the unmarked McArthur headed home to give Palace breathing space.
As poor as Arsenal were, the Eagles were excellent and warranted the three points they took south of the river.
Remarkably that was not the end of the drama in a pulsating derby as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was fortunate to benefit from Ward’s prod into his path as he fired home from just inside the area to make it 3-2 with a little under 15 minutes remaining.
Crystal Palace (4-4-1-1): Guaita 7, Wan-Bissaka 7, Dann 7, Kelly 7, Ward 7, McArthur 7, Milivojevic 6, Kouyate 6, Meyer 5 (Townsend 80), Zaha 8, Benteke 8 (Ayew 78). Not used: Hennessey, Van Aanholt, Riedewald, Sako, Batshuayi.