Crystal Palace 0-1 Arsenal: 10-man Gunners cling on to victory at Selhurst Park to maintain winning start as Martin Odegaard slots the only goal from the spot before Takehiro Tomiyasu red card
We may only be two games into the new season, but the way Arsenal achieved this victory had something of significance.
They were not at their best and won. They had to play the last 22 minutes with 10 men after Takehiro Tomiyasu foolishly picked up two red cards in seven minutes to still leave Selhurst Park three points behind.
What do they say about football teams winning games without being at their best.
There is, of course, a long way to go before we can truly categorize Arsenal as Manchester City’s closest rivals.
But the signs are ominous. With their backs against the wall here in Crystal Palace, they clenched their fists, they thrust their chests out, they stood erect. They have won. Even at this early stage it felt crucial.
Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard sent Sam Johnstone the wrong way from the penalty spot to put his side ahead in the second half
Buoyed by opening day wins, there was an air of optimism from both teams ahead of this Monday night showdown.
Of course, these clubs have contrasting ambitions for the season. Arsenal think they will take on Manchester City for the title again; while Palace – as much as they’d like to admit it – would be happy if they finished out of the relegation zone.
Mikel Arteta dropped Gabriel Magalhaes from his starting eleven for the second game in a row as speculation about his future at the club mounts.
There is interest in the Brazil international from Saudi Arabia, while sources close to the player suggest he is one of the candidates being considered by Real Madrid as they look to replace the long-term injured Eder Militao.
But with 10 days to go, the sale of the virtual ever-present would leave a gaping hole in Arsenal’s squad that they would struggle to fill at this late stage in the period.
Not that the Gunners started this encounter looking to miss their dominant centre-back and capitalize on the first chance within two minutes – Gabriel Martinelli saw his shot blocked from Kai Havertz’s pass after a lengthy sequence of possession from the Gunners.
That pattern continued through the initial exchanges; Arsenal blasted the ball around with relentless verve as Palace chased shadows.
Not that Roy Hodgson would be too alarmed, of course. He wouldn’t have been under any illusion who would have the lion’s share of the ball here.
CORRESPONDING FACTS AND REVIEWS
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-2-3-1): Johnstone, Ward (Rak-Sakyi), Guehi, Andersen, Mitchell, Lerma, Schlupp (Ahamada), Doucoure, Ayew, Eze, Edouard
Subs: Matthews, Tomkins, Clyne, Richards, Gordon, Riedewald
booked: Yes, Doucour
Manager: Roy Hodson
ARSENAL (4-3-3): Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, Saliba, White, Partey, Rice, Odegaard (Zinchenko), Havertz, Saka (Kiwior), Martinelli (Gabriel), Nketiah (Jorginho)
Subs: Raya, Smith Rowe, Trossard, Vieira, Nelson
Goals: Odegaard 53′ pen
booked: Tomiyasu, Havertz
Red cards: Tomiyasu
Manager: Michael Arteta
Referee: David Koete
And after watering the early storm, Palace finally settled in with their goal intact.
Who knows, if Ben White hadn’t produced a crucial block to reject Odsonne Edouard or if Aaron Ramsdale couldn’t cope with Eberechi Eze’s effort in the 17th minute, Palace might even have taken the lead.
That said, without Wilfried Zaha and Michael Olise, this Palace attack lacks a degree of creativity.
Their attacking output will no doubt sharpen up once Olise, whose proposed move to Chelsea collapsed last week amid a messy backdrop of behind-the-scenes ‘draining’ concerns, returns from a long-standing hamstring problem.
After losing attacking talisman Zaha on a free transfer to Galatasaray last month, winger Olise’s return can’t come soon enough for Hodgson.
But despite the apparent lack of spark in the final third, given the first 25 minutes here, Palace have enough up their sleeves to cope without him.
Much of that is down to Hodgson’s undeniable skill at organizing a football team. Without huge sums of money to improve the Palace team, Hodgson could still be the club’s biggest weapon this season in avoiding a relegation battle.
However, they got two quick reminders of the dangers of Premier League football here as Eddie Nketiah missed opportunities to blast Palace ahead.
First he hit the inside of the post with a slide rule after turning Joachim Anderson cleanly after Palace lost possession deep in their own half, before scooping over the ball with only Sam Johnstone to beat after Declan Rice’s sharp pass.
And as the first half drew to a close, Arsenal turned the screw, Johnstone tapping Martin Odegaard’s vicious effort over the crossbar just before half-time.
So, bearing in mind, it wasn’t that Palace weren’t warned of what was to come when Arsenal took the lead through Odegaard’s penalty in the 54th minute.
Johnston should have no complaints; he was too late in attempting to lead the ball out for Nketiah, who duly fell to the ground when hit with his ankle.
Hopes for a VAR reprieve for the Palace keeper were short-lived, Jarred Gillet decided Thomas Partey had committed no foul in the run-up to Johnstone’s fateful exit.
Odegaard did the rest, sending Johnson the wrong way to give Arsenal a lead they felt deserved. On the game balance, that was probably the case.
Palace continued to struggle, however, receiving a huge boost in the 67th minute when Takehiro Tomiyasu was sent off for a second yellow card.
It was the Arsenal defender’s own fault why he felt it necessary to withdraw Jordan Ayew when he had been booked seven minutes earlier for wasting time, only the Japan international will know.
One would imagine his manager, whose immediate response was to introduce Gabriel, will demand answers after his team had to fight on from a numerical deficit.
Ayew missed a golden opportunity from close range before Arsenal survived a VAR penalty check after Eze fell into the penalty area under pressure from Partey.
But Arsenal, despite all the huffing and puffing from Palace, persevered to maintain their 100 per cent start to the season.