By Walter Broeckx
Selhurst Park. I must say a name that still brings back some good memories to me. In the year 1979 I was there once for a FA cup game. It was a few days after I had witnessed my first game at Highbury. A game Arsenal lost 0-1 to Wolverhampton Wanderers. The game that made me a Gooner for as l0ng as I can breathe.
We found out that after that Saturday on Monday evening there would be played a few FA cup games. Arsenal had to travel to Notthingham Forrest and that was a bit far for us. But well we found out that Crystal Palace was playing Wolverhampton on Monday in the FA cup. After a long bus ride (using a variety of different buses) we came at the ground. Just at kick off time. A big roar came out of the stadium as the teams came on the field. A few of us wanted to buy something outside the ground and we heard the ref blow his whistle.
And seconds later a smaller roar from a part of the crowd. Wolverhampton scored what turned out to be the only goal of the game. Again a 0-1 for Wolverhampton when I was there. We travelled hours and hours to see that match and we missed the only goal. Oh well..
So when Arsenal go there I always think back at that evening in London. Great memories.
On to the game at lunchtime today. It was clear to see that Crystal Palace only had one thing in their mind: sit back and defend. And so they did. And it was up to Arsenal to find a solution. We weren’t helped at all by Flamini who had to leave the field with an injury after only a few minutes. To my surprise Gnabry came on. But I think by then Wenger knew that an extra attacking option would be better than a midfielder.
But it wasn’t really our day. Too slow. Way too slow. We didn’t really get out of our first gear. I think someone had pulled up the handbrake and everyone had forgotten how to release it. A few chances but we never really got in the flow.
So it was a rather bleak affair in the first half and the 0-0 was what can be expected when the attacking team plays too slow and the defending team is still fresh and running around.
The second half started a bit better. Gnabry was brought down in the Crystal Palace penalty area and the foul was so blatant that not even Foy could miss it. Arteta stepped up and scored from the spot. 0-1 for Arsenal; a familiar score line in this article.
Crystal Palace was still hanging on to their defensive formation after that so it was just playing the ball around a bit, creating a few chances but Giroud and Gnabry couldn’t put the ball in the net for a second that would put the game out of reach for Palace.
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Then we got a corner and suddenly Chamakh was away on the right for Palace with only Arteta chasing him down and bringing him down. As there was no other defender in sight (and that was the thing that upset me most in this situation), Foy had no choice but to send Arteta off.
So with extra time still half an hour we had to play with 10 men. Crystal Palace then got forward a bit more and the crossbar stopped a long distance shot from Ward. The ref gave a corner (which was wrong) and then Szczesny had to make the only important stop when another dipping shot came in towards goal. A fine save from the Polish keeper.
The longer the game went on the more we got back in control. Özil with his intelligent running and positioning was vital in that. And bringing on Wilshere and Monreal also. The way they came in was really great.
Wilshere mastered midfield and made us keep the ball much better. And Monreal caused a lot of trouble for Palace with his forward running. You could feel after a while that this team didn’t have the intention to let Palace score a goal. And the longer we played the more dangerous we became on the break.
And a few minutes from time Ramsey broke forward and waited for Giroud to run in to space and chipped a perfect cross in to the path of Giroud who didn’t miss this time. 0-2 for Arsenal and game over.
We had to work too hard for our points and made life difficult on ourselves by not getting in to a higher gear. But if winning titles is about winning ugly and difficult games when you don’t play very well…then I think we have done a good job today. And this might have been a game that a few seasons ago we might have lost. Losing a player early in the game, a stubborn team defending in numbers. Losing a man with a red card. But this team and the quality that cold be brought on from the bench in Jack and Monreal turned the game in our favour.
Not the best game from Arsenal but winning those games is the difference between staying top or losing ground.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal FC: crowd behaviour at the early matches
The sites from the same team…