Arsenal’s hope of a top four finish this season took a knock on Monday evening as Mikel Arteta’s side were comprehensively beaten 3-0 away at Crystal Palace. The Gunners started slowly and never got to speed with the intensity of the Eagles, going a goal down to a Jean-Philippe Mateta header from a set-piece.
It went from bad to worse in the opening stages, with a mistimed interception from Gabriel allowing Jordan Ayew through on goal after the winger lost his marker Nuno Tavares. He was able to finish comfortably, giving the visitors a lot of work left to do.
While Arsenal marginally improved in the second half, they were still struggling with the bouncing Selhurst Park atmosphere, before the home side broke away on the counter. Wilfried Zaha drifted into the box, where Martin Odegaard took him out for a penalty.
The Ivory Coast international dispatched the spot kick and secured all three points for former Gunners captain Patrick Vieira. It means that Arteta is left with his side in fifth, level with fourth-placed Tottenham on points, but with a tough run-in to come.
With all that said, here’s how the national media saw the game.
Was this the night Arsenal’s wheels came off? Mikel Arteta will hope it was an isolated off day in a largely excellent season but his players did not turn up here and were thoroughly beaten by energetic, highly-motivated opponents who outdid them in every department.
Arsenal were looking pretty but now they are making things difficult for themselves. Heading into the Palace clash they were level on points with Tottenham but had two games in hand. A north London derby looms and could yet prove crucial in deciding who gets Champions League football.
Conte’s side have won five of their last six and appear to be on a roll, whilst Arteta’s young team lost for the second time in three outings following the reverse against Liverpool recently. The Gunners have, for the most part, put together an impressive winning run over the past few months. Manchester United’s draw at the weekend means the race for fourth now looks to be solely a north London affair, which further magnifies Monday’s defeat.
How Arsenal could have done with Patrick Vieira the player last night. He wouldn’t have accepted this – no chance. If you didn’t know better, you wouldn’t have believed Arsenal were the club hunting Champions League qualification here at Selhurst Park.
The fact one of their most legendary players was masterminding their demise won’t have come as a crumb of comfort to those with Arsenal connections. But, in the here and now, Vieira’s focus is entirely on south London – transforming a football club that was in desperate need of reinvigoration; this victory the latest in a rapidly increasing list of highs.
The only positive Mikel Arteta can take from this disappointment is that their Champions League destiny remains in their hands.
In their fine run of recent form, Arsenal had been consistently composed and slick in possession. Here, it was the opposite. Even Martin Odegaard and Thomas Partey, so impressive in the last few months, appeared unable to complete even the simplest of passes in midfield.