Arsenal got back on track after their opening day meltdown as Olivier Giroud’s superb volley inspired a 2-1 Premier League win against Crystal Palace on Sunday.
Arsene Wenger’s side were embarrassed by a woeful 2-0 home defeat against West Ham United last weekend, but they went some way to restoring their confidence with a gritty display at Selhurst Park.
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While it was still far from a vintage Arsenal performance, there were reasons for Wenger to be encouraged — none more significant than the memorable strike from much-criticised France forward Giroud which opened the scoring in the first half. Also heartening for Wenger was the way Arsenal refused to be shaken by Joel Ward’s excellent equaliser, keeping their equilibrium to regain the lead through a Damien Delaney own goal and holding firm in the closing stages to secure their first win of the season.
The Gunners hadn’t lost at Palace since 1979 and extending that run was essential as Wenger’s team try to avoid a repeat of the slow start that shattered their title challenge last season. Key to Arsenal’s hopes of a first title since 2004 is the form of Alexis Sanchez and the Chile winger, making a belated maiden start of the season after his country’s victorious Copa America campaign, was quickly back in the thick of the action.
After Yohan Cabaye’s shot from a Palace corner had been blocked, Arsenal broke at speed and Mesut Ozil sent Sanchez through on goal. However, Sanchez’s ponderous touch allowed Ward to block his first shot before his effort from the rebound was cleared off the line by James McArthur. Even so, Palace’s last-ditch defending was never likely to keep Arsenal at bay for long and Wenger’s men deservedly took the lead in the 16th minute.
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Lambasted by Arsenal fans for his inconsistent form last season, Giroud still retains Wenger’s support and he showed why with an instinctive strike that should silence his critics for a while. Ozil, surging down the left edge of the penalty area, whipped a cross towards Giroud and from 12 yards out the French striker pivoted to guide an acrobatic left-foot volley past Palace keeper Alex McCarthy for his first goal of the season.
Sanchez threatened to double Arsenal’s lead when he cut in from the right to fire a low shot that McCarthy pushed away. But Arsenal’s Achilles heel remains their fragile defence and they were exposed again in the 28th minute as Palace, out-played for much of the first half, suddenly found themselves level. With Arsenal’s defence fatally backing off too far, Yannick Bolasie was able to chest down to McArthur, who teed up Ward on the edge of the area and the right-back drilled a superb strike beyond Petr Cech into the far corner.
Cech had been castigated for his role in the West Ham loss and, while this wasn’t an obvious mistake, he might regret the way he failed to fully extend his arms as he dived. While Cech rued the one that got away, a fine save from McCarthy stopped Aaron Ramsey restoring Arsenal’s lead when the Wales midfielder met Ozil’s cross with a flicked shot.
Francis Coquelin was lucky to escape a red card when the Arsenal midfielder, already on a booking, clattered into Wilfried Zaha just before half-time. Wenger’s side had another let-off soon after the interval when Connor Wickham stretched to poke Zaha’s cross onto the near post. And Arsenal enjoyed another stroke of good fortune to go back in front in the 55th minute when Sanchez’s downward header from Hector Bellerin’s cross was diverted into his own net by Palace captain Delaney.
In a tense finale, Arsenal grew increasingly nervous, but they clung on as Jordon Mutch headed over from close range and Ward saw his header held on the line by Cech.