Crystal Palace (0) 1 Arsenal (1) 3
Selhurst Park Stadium, Selhurst, London SE25 6PU
Wednesday, 19th May 2021. Kick-off time: 7.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Mohamed Elneny, Thomas Partey; Nicolas Pépé, Emile Smith-Rowe, Bukayo Saka; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Dani Ceballos, Alexandre Lacazette, Martin Ødegaard, Willian Borges da Silva, Cédric Soares, Pablo Marí, Mat Ryan, Granit Xhaka, Gabriel Martinelli.
Scorers: Nicolas Pépé (35 mins, 90+5), Gabriel Martinelli (90+1)
Yellow Cards: Mohamed Elneny
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 69%
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Assistant Referees: Gary Beswick, Adam Nunn
Fourth Official: Andre Marriner
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Stuart Attwell; AVAR Scott Ledger
Attendance: A maximum of 6,500 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions
With just two matches to go before the end of this troubled season (the first one being tonight, of course), it is vitally important that we do all we can to grab those elusive six points which are available to us. Although it may well be a forlorn hope, we can of course, if push comes to shove, still be involved in European football next year, courtesy of the newly formed UEFA Europa Conference League, which starts next season. Apparently, only one English team will qualify for this fledgling competition, and this position will either go to the winners of the Carabao Cup or, if they have already qualified for the Champions League or Europa League, the place will be offered to the team that finishes sixth or seventh in the Premier League. As Manchester City have already won the Carabao Cup, there could be a mad dash for seventh place in the Premiership. Oh well, it was just a thought. Let’s go!
After both teams provided a guard of honour for departing Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson, the match started off at quite a pace, with both sets of attackers testing the respective defenders with pace and gusto. In fact, the home side were quite physical in the opening stages, with both Jeffrey Schlupp and Joel Ward being extremely fortunate in staying on the pitch. Our first decent attempt to score came just after the quarter of an hour mark, when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s right-footed shot from outside the box was blocked by Gary Cahill, and slowly we started to make our mark on this tough, uncompromising match. Our best chances appeared to happen when we attacked Crystal Palace from down the wings, where their defenders had problems in stopping our players crossing balls into their box. On the half hour, Bukayo Saka was brought down in the Palace penalty area by their goalkeeper; our call was for a penalty, of course, but sadly he was offside when he began his run onto the goal. Bernd Leno was continually called into action as the home side made some good attempts to try to open the scoring, but fortunately he was in the right place at the right time to deny them the honour of the opening goal. A few minutes later, we deservedly took the lead when some clever interplay on the left wing between Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney, who crossed the ball into the penalty area for Nicolas Pépé, showed excellent technique in scoring the opening goal of the night. The game then descended into some unfortunate petulant behaviour by the home side that culminated in Mohamed Elneny and Christian Benteke both receiving a yellow card by referee Anthony Taylor. The yellow card incident took the sting out of the match somewhat, and the game levelled out (and calmed down a bit) as we went into the half-time break a goal ahead.
Although the second half started strongly, it lacked the bite of the middle period of the first, and slowly and surely, we started to impose our will on the game. Arsenal certainly played with more confidence in this half, and with that, came desire and a certain spark in their play, hunting for that second, definitive goal. And then, just after the hour, the unthinkable happened. From a Crystal Palace free-kick on the left, Christian Benteke bundled Mohamed Elneny to the ground and launched himself at the ball to equalise the score. After a VAR check, the goal stood, and almost immediately Bukayo Saka was replaced by Martin Ødegaard, just as the home side were pushing for a second goal. We apeared to be running out of fresh ideas, and no matter how much we battled, the game was stagnating into a plodding, ragged pace. With thirteen minutes of the match remaining, Mikel Arteta made a double substitution, with Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey being replaced by Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Martinelli in order to bring fresh impetus (and legs) to the proceedings here in SE25. Bernd Leno was utterly amazing tonight; with eight minutes to go he kept us in the game when he made a point-blank save from Jordan Ayew that looked to be a certain goal for the home side. As the game was in its final stages, the match became more end-to-end with both sides breaking out and trying to grab a late winner. And then, in the first minute of injury time, cometh the hour, cometh the man. From the right hand side, Martin Ødegaard crossed the ball deep into the Palace penalty area for Gabriel Martinelli, who controlled it deftly past Vicente Guaita and casually tapped the ball into the net. And as if that was not enough, literally on the final whistle, Nicolas Pépé received the ball in the penalty area, jinked and swerved and stuck the ball beyond the goalie for our third and winning goal.
Over the course of ninety minutes there were times when we were not exactly brilliant, but all of our shots on target were goals here at Selhurst Park tonight. The two goals in injury time were a complete lifeline for us, and although it looked at times that the best we could hope for from this match was a hard-fought draw, two pieces of absolute brilliance from Gabriel Martinelli and Nicolas Pépé ensured three points as the game ebbed away. All to play for on Sunday afternoon, then. Nothing less than a win will do, and then it will be down to other results around us in the table. Who would have thought that it would have come down to this for us on the last day of the season when the campaign started last August. Funny game, football.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Brighton and Hove Albion at the Emirates on Sunday, 23rd May at 4.00pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.