Palace’s long wait for a win against Arsenal was extended to 14 games as goals from Olivier Giroud and Alex Iwobi brought about Sam Allardyce’s first defeat as Eagles boss.
The scoring was opened in outrageous fashion when the French striker miraculously netted a backheeled volley that flew into the top corner, and despite a brighter showing after the restart, the visitors fell further behind thanks to Iwobi’s header.
The defeat meant that 2017 started in losing fashion for Palace, who turn their attentions towards a crunch game against Swansea City in just over 48 hours’ time.
In the first half Arsenal were at their best with their slick passing abilities on display throughout, and just five minutes in they nearly grabbed the lead when a low cross by Nacho Monreal missed both Giroud and Lucas Perez by a stud’s length, and six minutes later Alexis Sanchez had his first sight of goal as he picked up possession and turned before letting fly, and saw a powerful attempt bend violently and flash just wide.
Wayne Hennessey was then called into action for the first time when Iwobi and Perez linked up inside the area to carve out a chance for the former, but his shot lacked the required power to test the Welshman too much who pulled off a regulation save.
But 16 minutes later saw the deadlock broken with one of the goals of the season. A swift counter-attack began on the edge of the Arsenal box as Hector Bellerin found Giroud who flicked the ball into Iwobi. He sped forward and fed Sanchez but the Chilean produced a poor cross that was well behind the on-rushing Giroud, however the Frenchman managed to somehow produce a scorpion kick to backheel the ball towards goal, over Hennessey’s dive and kiss the base of the crossbar to score in simply stunning fashion.
As well as that magnificent goal, the Gunners were playing some splendid stuff and Mohamed Elneny was next to test his luck but saw a powerful drive go well wide after some sparkling Sanchez skill, and it took Palace until the 37th minute to register an attempt on goal when Yohan Cabaye bent a tame effort straight at Petr Cech.
Before the half came to a close Sanchez would twice force Hennessey into saves including one smart stop from point-blank range in injury-time, but despite their superiority in the first half Arsene Wenger’s men would only return to the changing rooms one goal ahead.
It was a similar story at this venue last season and perhaps with thoughts of last April’s draw in their minds, Palace went close minutes after the restart when Andros Townsend got away down the right and crossed towards the back post where Christian Benteke was waiting with menace, however he couldn’t get the right connection on his header and it drifted just wide.
However those hopes were dashed on 55 minutes when the Gunners added a second. On another probing attack, Sanchez slipped in the overlapping Monreal and his low cross was deflected up into the air by Scott Dann. It fell kindly for Iwobi who headed it goalwards, and despite the best efforts of Joel Ward on the line he couldn’t keep it out and the Nigerian international was off celebrating.
Despite seeing their chances of a point become twice as difficult, Palace quickly exerted plenty of pressure but found Cech in inspired form. He firstly pushed away a good Benteke header from a Jason Puncheon corner, and seconds later Cabaye hit a half-volley from 25 yards which was also parried to safety by the Czech stopper. Then within a minute after his first save, he was flying through the air again to turn away a Townsend blast and continue to frustrate Allardyce’s side.
However they wouldn’t be able to find a goal to set up a grandstand finish as the game petered out somewhat in the final stages, and indeed it was Arsenal who nearly added another to the scoreboard instead late on when Aaron Ramsey dragged the ball wide when well-placed and Hennessey got down low to deny Alex Oxlade-Chambrlain, but the damage had already been done as the Eagles’ search for a first win against the Gunners since 1994 continued.
Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal, Elneny (Coquelin 72), Xhaka, Iwobi (Oxlade-Chamberlain 77), Perez (Ramsey 72), Sanchez, Giroud. Subs not used: Ospina, Mustafi, Reine-Adelaide, Maitland-Niles.
Palace: Hennessey, Kelly, Dann, Tomkins, Ward, Flamini, Cabaye (Mutch 65), Zaha, Puncheon, Townsend (Lee 71), C. Benteke (Campbell 77). Subs not used: Speroni, Phillips, Husin, Sako.