Arsenal 8 points clear, but not yet galloping away

Having gone out of the Europa League on Thursday, it was important that we bounced back quickly. And we did exactly that.

It was not just the victory against Palace that was important, but the manner in which we win.

After the Bournemouth game, I mentioned how we can not keep expecting to get away with it. That whilst coming from behind with a last minute winner is exciting, it was happening too often. Bournemouth came off the back of last minute winners against Aston Villa and Manchester United.

3-0 against Fulham was followed up with a 4-1 win over Palace. 7 goals scored in 2 games, just the one conceded.

It means that we go into the international break 8 points clear of Manchester City.

Whilst the gap might look huge, things can change quickly. City have a game in hand – home to West Ham, and also need to face us at the Etihad.

City fans will be thinking “win the game in hand and beat Arsenal at home, its a 2 point league”, and they are right.

And that is why I am not going to get too excited, yet. Likewise, those saying “if Arsenal bottle it from here it will be the biggest collapse in Premier League history” are misguided.

My memory goes back to Manchester United being being 5 points clear of Manchester City with 4 games to play in 2011/12.

United drew and lost their next two games – the defeat away to Man City – and missed out on the title by goal difference.

There is still plenty of football to play, plenty of twists and turns still to come.

All we can keep doing is focusing on the next game. And that is Leeds at home after the international break.

The two-weeks off will give us more time to get fitness into Gabriel Jesus, and hopefully get William Saliba back.

We are in a very good place right now. Much better than any of us would have dreamed before the season started. But we have not yet galloped away. There are still a few furlongs to run. A few more fences to jump.

The race is not over yet.



MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 4 – 1 Crystal Palace

Arsenal (2) 4 Crystal Palace (0) 1

Premier League

Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU

Sunday, 19th March 2023. Kick-off time: 2.00pm

(4-3-3) Aaron Ramsdale; Ben White, Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães, Oleksandr Zinchenko; Martin Ødegaard (c), Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Leandro Trossard, Gabriel Martinelli.

Substitutes: Kieran Tierney, Gabriel Jesus, Emile Smith-Rowe, Jakob Kiwior, (Jorge Luiz Frello Filho) Jorginho, Fabio Vieira, Reiss Nelson, Matt Turner, Reuell Walters.

Scorers: Gabriel Martinelli (28 mins), Bukayo Saka (43mins, 74 mins), Granit Xhaka (55 mins)

Arsenal Possession Percentage: 62%

Referee: Stuart Attwell

Assistant Referees: Lee Betts, James Mainwaring

Fourth Official: Andy Madley

VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Darren England; AVAR Sian Massey-Ellis

Attendance: 60,247

Today’s match against Crystal Palace is yet again, another “must win” situation for us. If we are to be victorious this afternoon, then we will be eight points clear of Manchester City, which will be magnificent if we can achieve this feat.

Within three minutes of the start, our vice-captain Granit Xhaka floated a pass over the top that Gabriel Martinelli was unable to bring down to hit in time before Marc Guehi intercepted the movement. The visitors then went on their first attack of the game when thankfully Rob Holding’s first big action of the match was to win an important header in order to halt an Eagles’ attack. Shortly afterwards, we had a shout for a penalty as Gabriel Martinelli slotted a pass into the penalty area for Martin Ødegaard; but Luka Milivojevic tackled him, brought him down but referee Stuart Attwell cancelled our appeals out. The visitors broke out and caught us on the hop somewhat when Wilfried Zaha cut inside from the left wing and fired a low shot which hit the post and deflected onto the back of the diving Aaron Ramsdale before going off for a corner. We attacked soon after, and Ben White went on a run to try and create something, but having reached the edge of the penalty area, James Tomkins challenged him and cleared the ball. Arsenal continued to pressurise the Eagles, and on the twenty-sixth minute, we opened the scoring when a superb Bukayo Saka cross found him on the left side of the penalty area. He was confronted by Joel Ward, turned him and whacked the ball into the far corner of the net. On the half hour, Granit Xhaka took a blow to his right knee, and although it seemed an accidental challenge from Michael Olise, it was certainly a painful collison. The visitors were trying to stop us, but not with much success; we are penetrating their defence in several areas, and they are finding it difficult to contain us. Six minutes before the break, Martin Ødegaard looped over a free-kick into the Palace penalty area and Thomas Partey met it perfectly, only to head it over the bar. Our pressure is constant and relentless; Leandro Trossard sliced a lovely shot from a Ben White cross but the ball stayed in play, allowing him to set up our captain for a shot that he dragged just past the post. So close. Three minutes before half-time, Bukayo Saka grabbed our second, but there was a query over whether the goal was offside or not. The VAR team are checking to see if Bukayo Saka was beyond Joel Ward when he received the pass from Ben White; it was a heartstopping few moments whilst we were awaiting the results, but thankfully everything was in order and the goal stood. On the stroke of half-time, Thomas Partey looked to make it three, but he blasted the ball just wide from close range. After three minutes injury time, Stuart Attwell blew the whistle for the end of the first half, with our star very firmly in the ascendancy now.

We certainly came started the second half in the same vein as we finished the first, bringing the game to the visitors and putting them under extreme pressure. Bukayo Saka beat Tyrick Mitchell and fired in a low cross that Joel Ward cleared, and the visitors broke out, with the ball finding its way to Wilfried Zaha, who tried to create something special for Palace by jinking into our penalty area. Surprisingly, he went down to the floor after a solid challenge from Bukayo Saka, but despite his appeals, referee Stuart Attwell merely shrugged off his pleas. Ten minutes after the restart, we scored our third when Leandro Trossard played a clever ball to put Granit Xhaka in behind the Eagles’ defence and his shot found the back of the net despite falling to the ground under a clumsy challenge. A few minutes later, Leandro Trossard fell to the ground, holding his face, after James Tomkins appeared to strike him in the jaw, earning him a yellow card for his trouble. Just after the hour, the visitors scored when a Palace corner dropped into Jeffrey Schlupp’s midriff, and then merely poked the ball over the line. But was a hand used to control it or not? The VAR team checked it and decided that no infringement took place, so the goal stood. A couple of minutes later, Gabriel Jesus and Kieran Tierney replaced Leandro Trossard and a fatigued Oleksandr Zinchenko; although the visitors came back at us with a couple of useful chances, with sixteen minutes of the match remaining, we put the match beyond the reach of the Eagles when a neat Kieran Tierney pull-back to the middle of the penalty area was whacked into the back of the net by Bukayo Saka for his second goal of the game. Kieran Tierney then flew past Joel Ward and fired across a low cross that James Tomkins failed to clear before another defender stepped in and cleared the ball out of the Palace penalty area. With six minutes of the match remaining, Emile Smith-Rowe and Jorginho replaced Gabriel Martinelli and Ben White, and three minutes later, after a superb Martin Ødegaard effort went close with an shot from range, Jakub Kiwior ran onto the pitch for his Emirates debut, replacing Gabriel. The game started to grind down to its natural conclusion, and the only thing of note to happen was in the third minute of four in injury time when Aaron Ramsdale was forced into a save to stop a shot from Eberechi Eze as the visitors searched desperately for a final bit of consolation, which did not happen. Stuart Attwell finished the proceedings shortly afterwards, and another satisfying three points was chalked onto the board.

Firstly, some welcome stats; we have earned our twenty-second Premier League win of the season, as many as we managed in the whole of last season, and our most ever victories in the boys’ first twenty-eight matches of a league campaign. Also, we are the first side in English Football League history to win as many as nine London derbies in a single season, and Leandro Trossard has assisted six goals in ten Premier League games for us, at least twice as many as any other player in the Premiership since his club debut in January. It is also more assists than the Belgian provided in fifty Premier League appearances for Brighton and Hove Albion (his previous club) since the start of last season, which was five. For us, this was a perfect response by the players after we lost on penalties to Sporting Clube de Portiugal in the last sixteen of the Europa League on Thursday. So many good things happened this afternoon, least of all Gabriel Martinelli scoring his thirteenth goal of the season, and also Bukayo Saka scoring a brace of goals as well. All in all, it was a fantastic performance, and the eight points gap between ourselves and Manchester City is truly worth its weight in gold. Keep going, chaps.

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: Leeds United at the Emirates on Saturday, 1st April at 3.00pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.

Win today and go 8 points clear with 10 to play. Simple.

Today the equation is simple.

Beat Crystal Palace and we go 8 points clear with 10 games to go.

We win the league taking it one game at a time, and not getting ahead of ourselves. We still have some tricky games ahead so it is important that we pick up all 3 points against the likes of Palace.

With Manchester City not playing due to the FA Cup, we can strike a psychological blow by winning today.

8 points is huge. And whilst City will have a game in hand and home advantage when they face us at the end of April, I would rather have the points on the board.

That 8 point gap will be painful for City, and any further slip up prior to their fixture against us will be felt.

Without looking too far forward, City potentially also have an FA Cup semi-final to play the weekend before facing us. That will mean that could go into that fixture with 2 games in hand.

Post that fixture, City could still have 11 games to play versus our 5. Fixture congestion will be something they need to negotiate, and you have to wonder if Pep might begin to prioritise the Champions League.

They host Leeds and Travel to Everton prior to potential Champions League finals. And play Chelsea after the 2nd leg. Those are 3 of the last 4 games of the season.

If City have not caught us back up, Pep might be tempted to put out 2nd strings for those games and focus on Europe.

But ultimately we need to focus on ourselves. We win 10 from the last 11 and we are champions no matter what.

I still think 87 points will be enough for us to win the league.

Man City have not won more than 3 league games in a row this season. If they win every game between now and the end of the season, that will be a 14 game winning run and see them get 94 points.

I would expect them to lose at least one more, and draw a couple. But again, we need to just focus on us.

Today we do it for Patrick Vieira. I fully expect the Arsenal faithful to sign his name at least once during the gam following his sacking by Palace.

Get the 3 points, build that gap going into the international break, and then use the next two weeks giving the likes of Gabriel Martinelli a break and getting Jesus back to full fitness.

Enjoy the game today.