Arsenal's title credentials still short
Despite win over Palace, Arsenal lack steel in midfield
CRYSTAL PALACE 1
(Joel Ward 28)
(Olivier Giroud 16, Damien Delaney 56-og)
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, life at Arsenal is a bunch of chocolates.
You know exactly what you're going to get: A treat for the senses and a predictable soft centre.
The Gunners remain unrivalled in their ability to attract the eye and stir the soul, but they can't fool logic.
And logic dictates that this side can't quite capture the main prize this season.
Unless Arsene Wenger adds more steel in central midfield along with that elusive striker, he's going to fall agonisingly short once more.
The Gunners' narrow 2-1 victory at Crystal Palace last night steadied nerves after that embarrassing opening defeat by West Ham. But the soaring voices of the away fans drowned out their squeaky bums.
Arsenal once again performed like an incompetent nanny. They cannot put games to bed.
Palace's goal was peppered with shots, particularly in the first half, but powder-puff finishing undermined the fine work of Mesut Oezil, Alexis Sanchez and even Olivier Giroud.
Without late additions in the transfer market, there's a feeling that the Gunners might float like butterflies - and sting like them this season.
Santi Cazorla struggled to provide enough defensive cover for Francis Coquelin, who was so overworked and frazzled, he was eventually substituted to avoid a second yellow card.
And for all their flamboyance, the Gunners are still without reliable, sustained firepower. They cannot kill off contests.
And Wenger knows it.
His decision to start an almost-fit Sanchez rather than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott looked a masterly one.
The Chilean terrified poor Joel Ward with the efficiency of a Hitchcock horror, coming up with fresh scares at regular intervals.
Sanchez had six chances in the first half and should've scored twice in the opening quarter of an hour, turning Ward into a human corkscrew.
But his misses were forgotten in the 16th minute when Giroud made a mockery of his nearly-man tag.
Out on the left, the hapless Ward failed to close down the inspired Oezil. But the German's sublime cross appeared to be carried by a cannon.
The ball whizzed towards Giroud, who managed to contort his body with the speed of a breakdancing salmon to thrash home an overhead kick.
With one exquisite finish, Giroud underlined why he's such an exasperating character.
When he's this good, he's gifted. When he's off his game, he's incorrigible.
Once again the Gunners won the gold medal for being gullible, conceding a daft goal to the game's most distracted man.
A haunted Ward had laboured for a full 27 minutes, when he wandered up field and picked his spot from 25m.
His arrowed drive was exceptional, but Petr Cech's reflexes were less impressive.
Questions will inevitably be asked, namely, would Cech in his Chelsea prime have reached that strike? Would Thibaut Courtois?
Ward's daisy-cutter demanded a spectacular save, but it was just about preventable.
The goal was so unmerited. But then, the goal was so Arsenal.
Despite 14 attempts in the first half, the Gunners somehow trudged off with no advantage.
Within seconds of the restart, Connor Wickham saw his close-range shot smash against the post as Wenger saw his side's promise almost disintegrate.
Fortunately for him, the farcical Sanchez-Ward bout settled the contest.
In the 56th minute, Hector Bellerin curled a cross towards the far post, which should have been meat and drink to Ward, but the right back must have been on a hunger strike.
He didn't climb. He ducked, allowing the monstrous Chilean, all 1.65m of him, to muscle a header goal-wards, which went in via Damien Delaney's knee.
The centre back gets the unfortunate asterisk. The error belongs to Ward.
Palace battled for an equaliser, but lacked sufficient quality. Future opponents will be less obliging.
The Gunners are still pretty to watch. But they need to be much more penetrative if they want to win the title.
"This is a difficult place for teams to come and win. To get the three points could be a turning point for us."
— Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
- CRYSTAL PALACE: Alex McCarthy, Joel Ward, Scott Dann, Damien Delaney, Papa Souare, Wilfried Zaha (Lee Chung Yong 76), Yohan Cabaye, James McArthur (Patrick Bamford 80), Yannick Bolasie (Jordon Mutch 46), Jason Puncheon, Connor Wickham
- ARSENAL: Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 64), Santi Cazorla, Mesut Oezil (Kieran Gibbs 83), Alexis Sanchez (Mikel Arteta 75), Olivier Giroud