Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 0
Arsenal: Giroud (15'), Iwobi (56')
Man of the match: Alex Iwobi (Arsenal)
The cross was slightly behind him but Olivier Giroud was not deterred by that small detail. As Alexis Sanchez’s delivery swung towards him inside the Crystal Palace penalty area, the Arsenal striker held his run, readjusted his body and applied a stunning scorpion-kick finish to give his side the lead.
The incredible quality of the goal prompted gasps of disbelief from fans around the Emirates Stadium each time it was replayed on the big screens, with the quick and clinical nature of the preceding counter-attack only adding to the overall appeal.
It was Giroud who sparked the break by flicking Hector Bellerin’s pass into the path of Granit Xhaka, who immediately moved it on to Alex Iwobi before Sanchez collected possession down the left.
Thirteen seconds was all it took for Arsenal to race down the other end of the field and open the scoring after pinching the ball just a few yards outside their own 18-yard box.
“I think it was an exceptional goal because it came at the end of a fantastic collective movement,” Arsene Wenger said in his post-match press conference.
“Olivier transformed that goal into art — art because of the surprise, because of the beauty of the movement and the efficiency.”
Giroud’s effort set Arsenal on their way to a routine victory on a cold and rainy afternoon, with Palace second best throughout Sunday’s encounter.
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While the hosts controlled possession and forced visiting goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey into a number of interventions, Sam Allardyce’s side struggled to contain their opponents or pose any sort of attacking threat until they were two goals behind.
Arsenal’s second arrived 11 minutes after half-time, Alex Iwobi — who was superb in the No. 10 role — reacting quickest to nod Scott Dann’s sliced interception into the back of the net. From that moment on they were willing to sit a little deeper and allow Palace a greater share of the ball, which in turn opened up more space for Wenger’s men on the counter.
Arsenal have been much more dangerous in transition this season: a pool of attacking players which includes Sanchez, Iwobi, Theo Walcott, Lucas Perez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain means pace in the forward line is virtually guaranteed in every starting line-up, while the use of Sanchez as a central striker for much of the campaign has provided them with a mobile and energetic spearhead at the top of the pitch.
Giroud has been forced to remain patient due to the ex-Barcelona man’s fine form, with his first start in the Premier League not arriving until Arsenal’s meeting with West Bromwich Albion six days before this weekend’s London derby. His skill-set is different to Sanchez’s — Giroud’s biggest quality is his ability to link the play with his back to goal — and his playing time has duly been limited as Arsenal have altered their approach as a result of the Chilean’s redeployment.
He has still chipped in with some valuable goals as a substitute, though, including a brace against Sunderland and a late equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Manchester United. It was also Giroud’s header that brought all three points against West Brom last week, and his extraordinary effort against Palace means the France international will probably keep his place in the side for the trip to Bournemouth on Tuesday, when Arsenal have the chance to move within six points of league leaders Chelsea.
“I’ve been spoiled in my career because I’ve had many great players,” Wenger replied when asked whether Giroud’s spectacular strike was the best he has seen during his 20 years in north London. “That was certainly in the top five.”
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