A vastly more clinical Arsenal side eased to victory over Crystal Palace on Thursday night, fending off a spirited late fight back to take all three points.
Despite wobbles along the way, Arsene Wenger’s men showed the kind of efficiency in front of goal that has been sadly lacking in recent months, although good chances still went begging at Selhurst Park.
On a positive note, there was universal praise for Jack Wilshere, who was industrious and progressive both in and out of possession, culminating in a glorious lofted pass for Alexis Sanchez’s second goal.
It was the sort of insightful pass we were used to seeing with regularity from Wilshere many moons ago and something I hope we begin to see much more of in the weeks and months ahead.
The only downside to Wilshere’s evening was the decision to keep him on for the full 90 minutes. Given ongoing concerns over his workload and general fragility, I would have been much happier to see him given 10-15 minutes rest at the end, instead of Alexandre Lazazette.
It was also good to see Sanchez back to something like his effervescent best, collecting two goals and generally causing havoc for the home defence. I suspect it is no coincidence that his own struggles for form this year have coincided with Arsenal’s general downturn in fortunes in front of goal. Wherever his future lies, the Chilean will continue to work hard and score goals in an Arsenal shirt in the meantime, and we will need every ounce of his effort between now and the end of the season.
A return to something like orthodoxy in team selection was welcome too. After weeks and months of occasionally baffling lineups, Wenger produced as close to a common sense XI as it was possible to be for last night’s encounter. It is always reassuring, after all, to have three centre backs playing in the heart of defence!
The returning Sead Kolasinac and Calum Chambers both did reasonably well, but it will take more minutes in the starting lineup before the flaws in their games are ironed out, especially so Chambers, who found it tough at times against the pace and running of Wilfred Zaha.
On a less than positive note, I think it is time that Hector Bellerin was afforded a spell on the sidelines. After a revelatory burst onto the scene a few seasons ago, his work in the last six to eight months has been short of the high standard he set for himself and it only seems fair his place in the side should be as under threat as any other.
If Chambers or Matthieu Debcuhy can’t be risked out wide, then why not given Ainsley Maitland-Niles a few weeks there, to allow Hector a breather and a chance to reflect on some of his shortcomings.
After all, it was the Spaniard’s wanderings which allowed Zaha in particular the chance to expose Chambers one-on-one, which cost us a goal and could have cost us points if allowed to continue as it did.
Hector could also do with time to work on the offensive side of his game. Although much-improved, his crossing could stand to be better.
It was disappointing to conceded two goals again last night, furthering the narrative of fallibility in this side. Palace have scored a lot of goals at home lately and have found joy against much better defences than ours but that doesn’t excuse some of the shoddy marking and positioning that allowed two goals to be scored. It is exactly the sort of weaknesses which lets the team down badly when things aren’t quite firing in attack. Matches against Southampton, Watford, and Manchester United are but a handful of examples.
Overall, however, it would be churlish to complain for too long given that we collected another haul of maximum points and stretched our unbeaten run in all competitions to seven matches (five in the league, one Europe League, and one in the Carabao Cup).
Though the performances haven’t been ground-breaking along the way, we have stuck to our task and responded in the right way to some pretty challenging situations. Let’s hope that can continue in the months ahead.