Own goal and Coquelin controversy see Arsenal edge Crystal Palace
Damien Delaney’s second-half own goal and referee Lee Mason’s refusal to send persistent fouling Francis Coquelin off aided Arsenal, now 4/1 with Coral for the title, to a first competitive win of the Premier League campaign at Crystal Palace.
The Gunners took the lead on 15 minutes through an acrobatic Olivier Giroud effort, but were pegged back before half an hour by a rare strike from Eagles right back Joel Ward. Alexis Sanchez’s back-post header later forced Palace captain Delaney to turn the ball past his own keeper Alex McCarthy.
Arsene Wenger and Alan Pardew both made two changes to their starting XIs, with Arsenal promoting Sanchez and Hector Bellerin from the bench in favour of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mathieu Debuchy. Eagles striker signing Connor Wickham, meanwhile, replaced Glenn Murray up top and in-demand winger Yannick Bolasie came in for Jordon Mutch.
Early Gunners raids came through Aaron Ramsey, who saw his shot blocked at close quarters, and the hosts then needed James McArthur to clear off the line to deny Sanchez after almost being caught on the counter from a corner.
Ward’s weak defending up against Mesut Ozil on a quarter of an hour saw Palace punished, as Giroud smashed in from a left-wing cross in acrobatic fashion.
The Eagles defender atoned, however, when McCarthy could only parry a Sanchez strike after Wilfried Zaha cheaply ceded possession, with Ward preventing Ozil from tapping in a second for Arsenal.
A mixed day for Ward continued when he pulled Palace level in stunning fashion. Bolasie nodded down a crossfield ball into McArthur’s path, and he teed up the onrushing right back to lash past Petr Cech.
McCarthy denied Ramsey at full stretch when the Wales midfielder applied a clever flicked finish, so the two teams went in level at half-time. Pardew brought Bolasie off at the interval, and Eagles influence rather dwindled for the second 45, though not before Wickham hit the post with a half-volley on Zaha’s near-post cross.
Palace goal hero Ward made another costly mistake 10 minutes after the break, however, allowing Sanchez to get the jump on him as a right-wing delivery found the Chile international.
The Arsenal attacker’s downward header was diverted into the Eagles net by an outstretched Delaney boot.
A tame Jason Puncheon effort just before the hour mark and Ward’s late header from a corner, which both went straight into the grateful gloves of Cech, were all the home team could get on target for what remained of this contest.
Wenger’s men should probably have played the last half hour with 10 men, but referee Mason resisted Palace pressure to brandish red to already booked Coquelin for persistent fouling. The Gunners gaffer wisely hauled his French anchorman off after protests from the hosts.
Santi Cazorla came close to rounding off Arsenal’s victory in the final minute before stoppage time, but his shot was saved by McCarthy’s legs. Oxlade-Chamberlain also found the Eagles keeper in the way at the death.
Given Palace’s poor record in this fixture (they remain odds-on at 4/5 for a top 10 finish), a home defeat despite a good account of themselves is hardly surprising.
Pardew may be aggrieved by Mason’s reluctance to perhaps ruin the contest by sending Coquelin off, but there was a clear response here from the Gunners to their shock 2-0 defeat on the opening day by West Ham United. Liverpool at the Emirates is Wenger’s next test.