LONDON — Bukayo Saka scored twice as Arsenal moved eight points up at the top of the Premier League with a 4-1 win against Crystal Palace.
– Report: Arsenal thrashes Palace | first division table
Despite sacking manager Patrick Vieira on Friday, just 48 hours before he was due to face the club he once captained, Palace were unable to end their dismal streak that has seen them fail to win a game in 2023. Arsenal were too strong as Saka (2) , Gabriel Martinelli and Granit Xhaka scored their goals, with Jeffrey Schlupp scoring in the second half for Palace.
1. Saka shines as formidable Arsenal keep Man City waiting for a slip up
So much for Arsenal’s fall from the title race after losing to Manchester City. Since losing 3-1 to the champions at the Emirates on February 15, Mikel Arteta’s side have won six straight Premier League games and now hold an eight-point lead at the top of the table.
Bukayo Saka inspired the Gunners to their latest win against Crystal Palace, with two goals in a first-class performance and the England winger exemplified the confidence and faith that now runs through this Arsenal side.
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After losing to City and briefly relinquishing top spot, much of the talk turned to Arsenal falling by the wayside and even being outpaced by third-place Manchester United. But six games (and 18 points) later, Arsenal have silenced all doubters by avoiding all the dangers that came their way.
In most title matchups, even the eventual champions mess up in the games you least expect them to lose points. But despite needing to score decisive goals in the dying moments against Aston Villa and Bournemouth, Arsenal reined in their nerves and recorded the wins. Every time City thought their title rivals would drop points, Arsenal would simply step up and win when they had to.
On this occasion, there was never any doubt that Arsenal would clinch victory after Gabriel Martinelli opened the scoring on 28 minutes, so it was a reasonably stress-free win. That said, winning with ease is an achievement in itself in a title race, and Arsenal’s ability to do so will be a growing concern within the City field.
The Gunners are still due to visit the Etihad next month and have a tough trip to Liverpool too, but with games winding down City need Arsenal to lose soon. However, the good news for Arsenal is that it doesn’t look like they are going to do that.
2. Arsenal show that their squad can deal with injuries
Sunday could have been seen as proof of Arsenal’s apparent lack of depth in their team, but they passed it with flying colors.
For the first time in the league this season, manager Mikel Arteta was without central midfielder William Saliba with a back injury, but Rob Holding stepped in and produced a commanding performance alongside Gabriel. At right-back, Ben White excelled in the absence of the injured Takehiro Tomiyasu, while Eddie Nketiah, out with a foot injury, was not absent up front.
Many questions have been asked of Arsenal this season, with the team’s depth being pointed out as one of the recurring issues expected to cost them their title shot. But they have also weathered the three-month absence of striker Gabriel Jesus (he is now fit and playing again) to maintain their position at the top of the table, so Arteta and his players will now be heartened by the belief that they have the staff to go all the way.
Their bench against Palace also had Kieran Tierney, Emile Smith Rowe, Reiss Nelson, Fabio Vieira and Jorginho all set for action, a group of players who would go on to break into most Premier League teams. With just 10 league games left to play and no cup distractions after Thursday’s Europa League knockout against Sporting, Arsenal have the squad to tackle the encounter.
3. Palace looks doomed despite manager sacking
Don’t be fooled by Crystal Palace’s middle table position. The coachless team is on a downward spiral and could easily see them relegated this season.
The sacking of manager Patrick Vieira on Friday might have come as a surprise to many, but Palace have played 13 games in 2023 without winning any. At least they ended their four game scoreless streak when Jeffrey Schlupp scored in the second half.
They say the league table doesn’t lie, but it’s certainly giving the Selhurst Park club a false sense of security at the moment. Palace are still in 12th position after losing at the Emirates, but they are just three points clear of the bottom three and just four points clear of bottom team Southampton. Of the eight teams below them, only Nottingham Forest have failed to win any of their last six games; there should be a growing sense of alarm at Palace that their rivals are beginning to find form in the relegation battle.
Other than an 11th-minute effort from Wilfried Zaha that hit the post, Palace posed no threat against Arsenal under interim manager Paddy McCarthy, and defeat was inevitable once Gabriel Martinelli put the hosts ahead.
Palace were already struggling under Vieira, but it’s hard to see who could step in and stop their slide. They look like a team headed for relegation.
Best and worst performers
Ben White, DF, Arsenal: The Arsenal right-back quashed the threat of Palace winger Wilfried Zaha and was a vital cog in the advance, instigating the moves for the first two goals.
Bukayo Saka, FW, Arsenal: Great finish for Arsenal’s second goal and an all-around dominating performance on the right flank. On her way to being a global star in the next few years.
Rob Holding, DF, Arsenal: Replacing the injured William Saliba was a difficult task, but Arsenal’s central midfielder did well alongside Gabriel.
Wilfried Zaha, FW, Crystal Palace: He showed flashes of threat in attack, but his lack of concentration and poor marking led to Arsenal’s first two goals. Zaha can’t just attack and forget to defend.
Joel Ward, DF, Crystal Palace: He made it too easy for Martinelli to score Arsenal’s first goal by failing to get close enough to the Gunners winger.
Odsonne Edouard, FW, Crystal Palace: He did not know how to take advantage of the absence of William Saliba in the defense of Arsenal, making life difficult for Holding and Gabriel. He couldn’t hold the ball to help his team.
Highlights and Highlights
Arsenal not only scored four times on Sunday; they also produced some finishes that were extremely pleasing to the eye. For example, the first goal, which Gabriel Martinelli coldly dispatched. I love the build and then how well he creates space to move his left foot through the ball.
Gabriel Martinelli LOVES to score against Crystal Palace. 😤
📺: @USANetwork#MyPLMorning | #ARSCRY pic.twitter.com/Cm2ATUc3gA
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) March 19, 2023
And then there’s Bukayo Saka’s opener, in which the Gunners demoralized that Palace defense with a clever pass-and-out.
Saka adds a goal as Arsenal win 2-0 at the half!
📺: @USANetwork#MyPLMorning | #ARSCRY pic.twitter.com/k8pWHPYyJQ
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) March 19, 2023
After the game: what the players/coaches had to say
“Very happy, we needed that win and as I always say, we face each game as a final and we did it today. It was a good goal, good pass from (Bukayo Saka). I don’t know if it was for me or someone else, but it was a good shot with my loose foot, a good goal.” — Arsenal striker Gabriel Martinelli
Key statistics (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– Gabriel Martinelli scores the 24th goal of his Premier League career, breaking a tie with Nicolas Anelka for the second-most by an Arsenal player before his 22nd birthday. Bukayo Saka is the first on that list with 29 goals.
– Bukayo Saka is the youngest player in PL with 10 goals and 10 assists in a season in at least the last 15 seasons
– Saka is also the first Arsenal player with 10 goals and 10 assists in a Premier League season since Alexis Sanchez in 2016-17
– Saka’s 29 career Premier League goals are tied with Raheem Sterling for the 10th most PL goals by a player before his 22nd birthday.
Until next time
Arsenal: The Gunners face a winnable but potentially tricky pair of games after the international break. Leeds United visit the Emirates on April 1 in the Premier League before Arteta & Co. travel to Anfield for a big game against Liverpool on April 9.
Crystal Palace: After the break, Palace have a couple of games against teams also fighting the relegation specter, with a home game against Leicester City (April 1) and an away date at Leeds United (April 9).