On his first full return from a long-term knee injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain showed Arsenal – and the rest of the Premier League – just exactly what the title contenders were missing.
The 20-year-old England international picked up a brace to make the Gunner midfield look even scarier than it did coming in, and they returned to the top of the Premier League table with the 2-0 win at the Emirates.
Arsenal dominated the first half, owning nearly 80% of possession through 25 minutes. They couldn’t break through early, however, with Crystal Palace’s defending not pretty but effective.
While Arsene Wenger struggled with the zipper on his puffy coat, Arsenal struggled with a final product in the Crystal Palace half.
Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla both had chances in the first half hour, but couldn’t find the back of the net.
The best chance came in the 34th minute, when Laurent Koscielny nearly got a head to a free kick but he whiffed and Julian Speroni saved full-stretch.
They continued to probe and prod the Palace defense, but nothing would come of it in the first half as Crystal Palace’s shape actually improved as the first 45 drew on. Arsenal finished the first half with 75% of the possession, but only had one successful take-on out of seven they attempted.
Out of the break, though, the Gunners attack made much better use of the open areas they’d been given, and they delivered straight away.
Santi Cazorla ran through acres of space in the midfield, and he found Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain making a far-post run. The winger got Speroni to commit and then touched effortlessly over the keeper’s head for the opener.
Oxlade-Chamberlain made his run behind Palace defender Joel Ward who had completely lost touch with the young England international until it was too late.
With the visitors pegged back, they nearly had a chance to draw level just after the goal. A deflected cross from the left flank found Yannick Bolaise in the box who headed on for Cameron Jerome. The striker remained onsides and had a brilliant chance to score with a diving header, but the angle was too tight and Wociech Szczesny came to Arsenal’s rescue.
Arsenal stepped it up after that, and while a nervous 25 minutes went by without any insurance, Oxlade-Chamberlain returned for an encore. A brilliant one-two with Giroud saw Ox crash the box and cut back across goal before finishing low into the far corner.
It finished out with Arsenal maintaining that high possession number, and the pair of breakthroughs were enough to fell an otherwise staunch Palace defense on the day. Marouane Chamakh was largely a nonfactor on his return to the Emirates ,where he was generally a disappointment during his time at the London club.
Arsenal return two points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table, with the Citizens to play Chelsea tomorrow. With the West Bromwich Albion point earlier in the day, Palace fall to 17th, just a lone point off the relegation zone.
Arsenal – Oxlade-Chamberlain 48′, 73′
Arsenal – Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Ozil (Gibbs 84′), Podolski (Rosicky 71′); Giroud (Bendtner 84′).
Crystal Palace – Speroni; Ward, Gabbidon, Delaney, Parr; Bolasie, Dikgacoi, Jedinak, Puncheon; Chamakh (Gayle 82′), Jerome (Bannan 56′).