A nightmare start for Crystal Palace cost them dearly as they conceded four times in the opening 22 minutes to hand Arsenal a comfortable victory at the Emirates Stadium.
Nacho Monreal headed the hosts ahead after just five minutes before quickfire strikes from Alex Iwobi and Laurent Koscielny put them 3-0 ahead after just 13, before Alexandre Lacazette added to the misery with a fourth midway through a disastrous first half.
Playing only for pride, Roy Hodgson’s team were much more improved in the second and managed to pull a goal back when captain Luka Milivojevic netted a superb volley following a corner, but it was a mere consolation as Palace tasted defeat for only the second time in their last 13 league games – both at the hands of Arsenal.
The Eagles’ sluggish start to proceedings meant that their afternoon was virtually over with only a quarter of the game played. The opener took just five minutes to arrive when Wayne Hennessey was forced to concede a corner by tipping over an effort from Mohamed Elneny, and after Granit Xhaka whipped it towards the back post, Monreal escaped from James McArthur to mark his comeback from injury with a free header into the net.
And just five minutes later, it was 2-0. Some intricate passing between Iwobi and Lacazette saw the Frenchman edge into the Eagles area where he was tackled by Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who could only hook the ball towards Monreal. Sensing an opportunity, the left-back got to the byline and cut the ball back for Iwobi to steer goalwards, and despite Hennessey getting a hand to it, he couldn’t prevent his team falling further behind.
Already facing the proverbial mountain to climb, Palace looked shell-shocked and that hesitancy was soon pounced upon again by the Gunners who added a third on 13 minutes to all-but put the game to bed. Once again a Xhaka corner proved to be Hodgson’s team undoing which was again sent deep towards Monreal, and he nodded it into the path of Koscielny who bundled it over the line from close range.
Things would then get even worse midway through the first half when amazingly a fourth goal was netted in vintage Arsenal fashion. After a sustained period of possession, Mesut Ozil found Jack Wilshere in space who returned the ball to the German, and a cute backheel gave Lacazette a sight of goal which he took, and once again, Hennessey couldn’t quite prevent it nestling into the bottom corner and put Arsene Wenger’s team out of sight.
Thankfully for the beleaguered Eagles, the onslaught slowed up and they began to enjoy some pressure themselves with Bakary Sako forcing Petr Cech into a save with a low blast, and the veteran shot-stopper was called upon again just before the interval when Wilfried Zaha had a shot that deflected off Koscielny but the Czech keeper showed great reactions to get a big hand up to claw the ball away.
A half that Hodgson and his team would rather forget finally came to its conclusion, giving the chance for the Eagles boss to try and reenergise his players for the second half and soon after the restart Cech made another save, albeit comfortable, after Martin Kelly tried to reduce the arrears from six yards out after a corner.
With the game in the bag, Arsenal were oozing with confidence and Hennessey did well to deny Iwobi his second when a breathtaking pass by Ozil sent the Nigerian winger through on goal, and even when Palace had good opportunities they were finding Cech in imperious form, such as when Bakary Sako’s fine cross-field pass into Christian Benteke’s path seemed set to allow the Belgian to pull one back, but the Gunners custodian stayed big to deny him.
But on 77 minutes, they did find a way past him to get the goal that their second half display merited. Zaha won a corner on the right which was sent into the box by Yohan Cabaye, and after Benteke nodded the down to Milivojevic, he controlled the ball on his chest before rifling a volley into the bottom corner, however, it was way too late to stage any sort of comeback.
Indeed, the afternoon would get worse for Hodgson as Cabaye was stretchered off in the dying minutes after a challenge by Shkodran Musafi, adding to an ever-increasingly injury list in south London.
Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal (Maitland-Niles 34), Xhaka, Elneny, Iwobi (Kolasinac 82), Wilshere, Ozil (Nelson 73), Lacazette. Subs not used: Ospina, Chambers, Mertesacker, Nketiah.
Palace: Hennessey, Fosu-Mensah, Tomkins, Kelly, Van Aanholt, Zaha, Milivojevic, Cabaye (Riedewald 90), McArthur, Sako, Benteke. Subs not used: Speroni. Ward, Souare, Delaney, Lee, Townsend.