Arsenal 2-1 Crystal Palace: Never in Doubt

There is a common fallacy in the reporting of this game that last-minute goals are somewhat unfair, fluky and undeserved. You know, as if it was a random act of luck as opposed to - usually - the natural extension of one team being better than the other for the entirety of the game. A goal in the 90th minute counts exactly the same as one in the first, the 15th, or the 60th.

Arsenal were always better than Crystal Palace over the 90 minutes, slack marking on one set piece aside. Anyone who tells you that we weren't worth all three points doesn't understand this sport enough to be worth listening to.

That said, Palace did play fairly well themselves, and would have come away from many other grounds with at least a point. They sat in two banks for four at times, but they did not attempt to bunker for the entire match. When they countered, they did so at pace and with purpose. Frazier Campbell might even have stunned the Emirates into silence before a full minute had elapsed, had a through-ball to him been better weighted.

Once that early chance was evaded though, the home side settled into a casual domination of the match. The visitors largely rode it out without too much bother, though I can't help thinking that a better starting lineup may have given them more to think about. Yaya Sanogo was preferred to Olivier Giroud up top, answers on a postcard if you can work out why. Dennis knows, I stumped. Jack Wilshere also got the nod alongside Mikel Arteta in central midfield, despite looking off the pace in the preseason friendlies.

It wasn't just the odd selections that contributed to our lack of chances, though. Santi Cazorla, who remains a magnificent player, had a dreadful match from first minute to last. His set piece deliveries were abysmal, and he kept getting muscled off the ball in good areas.

Still, the Gunners as a whole were not playing poorly. Callum Chambers dazzled in central defense, calmly breaking up attacks before building ours up intelligently. Alexis Sanchez tormented Palace down the right wing with dizzying stepovers and dribbles, albeit with the final ball somewhat lacking. Aaron Ramsey was, as ever, often our most dangerous attacker. Sanogo worked hard, and did hold the ball well on a few occasions.

Even when Palace took the lead, I was never worried that we would go on to lose the match. Frustratingly, their goal was down to crap defending on a set piece (I know, you must be stunned too).

Before I get to that, most of you know that I am Wojciech Szczesny's biggest fan. However, indirectly, he was at fault for the goal. A long ball over the top was Szczesny's to clean up, and he did the right thing by coming out of his area to do so. However, he badly shanked his clearance - and while old boy Marouane Chamakh's weak lob attempt was never going in, it did lead to Laurent Koscielny having to concede the corner.

Sanchez will get the blame for letting Brede Hangeland get away from him once that corner was taken, but the way that zonal marking works is that once the Norwegian made that darting run inside, he wasn't Sanchez's man anymore. Koscielny was badly at fault with his slow reaction to come over, and once Sanogo missed the first header, the result was never in doubt. Handeland guided an excellent header into the far corner, and the more nervous among us were already writing the game off.

That, of course, was silly.

Here's the thing - over 90 minutes, and more importantly over a season, success will tend to happen if a team is mostly doing the right things. The way I described it to people in the pub was that for most of the match, we were doing everything 95% right. It was just that final ball, one run not made, one unlucky bounce, one excellent tackle from the Palace defense that kept conspiring against us. But, people put far too much stock in the immediate short-term outcomes. What's important is the long view...keep doing the right things, keep getting in the right positions, keep playing with verve and attacking intent. Sooner or later, something will break for you.

By that, I don't mean referee Jonathan Moss managing to blast his own vanishing spray into the faces of himself and Cazorla. What a maroon.

What I do mean though is that Arsenal kept at it, and found an equalizer just before the stroke of halftime. Alexis was the man to take it, and his beauty of a set piece curled into the area directly in the path of Koscielny's run. The Palace defense were all over the place, and Kos was left completely free to atone for his earlier error by guiding a cushioned header past Julian Speroni.

The second half continued mostly as the first had gone on, though Kieran Gibbs did go off early with what looked like a hamstring problem. Given that I rate Nacho Monreal as one of the lesser defenders in the entire division, I hope it's not serious. Olivier Giroud also came on for the ineffectual Sanogo, but never managed to find a way into the game. Uncharacteristically, the third sub came soon after, the dreadful Wilshere off for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

None of it seemed to make much of a difference, though. As it had been before, Arsenal casually dominated but rarely threatened. Still, it comes back to what I said before, though. Keep doing the right things, and keep doing the right things, and sooner or later something goes your way.

Moss made liberal use of his yellow card in the second half, though in fairness most of them were deserved. I note it here because Jason Puncheon managed to receive two of them, and found himself taking the long walk in the 89th minute. I don't know if that little bit of extra space gave us the impetus we needed or if it was just a matter of time, as I've been saying. Either way, we shortly thereafter found a way to score the winning goal.

It started from a corner, which was initially cleared, but then pinballed around the Palace area. The excellent Mathieu Debuchy fired in a shot which Speroni saved, but his rebound control let him down as it came right out to the unmarked Ramsey. The Welsh Jesus couldn't miss, sending all of us Gooners into raptures as one point turned to three in the blink of an eye.

Anyway, it's true that the Arsenal did not play up to their potential today. But, I continue to insist that they were fairly decent on the day, all thinks considered. Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil should be back soon, and perhaps the Boss will have one or two more signings for us before the window closes. Maybe it wasn't a perfect day, but I don't think anyone out there will be in a hot hurry to trade places with Manchester United today.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 6, Gibbs 7 (Monreal 7), Koscielny 7, Chambers 8, Debuchy 8, Arteta 7, Wilshere 5 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Cazorla 5, Ramsey 7, Sanchez 7, Sanogo 6 (Giroud 6)

Man of the Match: Oddly enough, I don't think it was either of our goalscorers. For me, Callum Chambers was the best Arsenal player on the field today, both defensively and with the way he efficiently linked up to the attackers. Well done, kid.