Drizzle was the order of the day at Selhurst Park and as I sat four rows from touchline it was a damp evening out. Dennis started on the bench, Edu, Gilberto and Campbell were still unfit so the team pretty well picked itself and took the field in our third choice yellow kit. Arsenal took early control in what threatened to be an open game but it was soon obvious that with a defensive minded 4-5-1 formation Palace had come for a home point.
Cygan did some good stuff early on and continued to do so throughout the match. Reyes had a shot from range early on but Kiraly held it with ease. A good chance went begging when Reyes found Henry who’s low shot zipped past the post with Freddie open and in a far better position. Pires stole good ball to put Henry away for a corner, but our corners continue to be about as threatening as a Tottenham championship challenge. Henry and Reyes combined neatly and then Freddie fired in a cross for Reyes that was blocked. As Arsenal piled forward Palace pulled eleven men back very effectively for the main part.
There were one or two tough tackles in midfield but in the main our problem was the blue and red brick wall. ‘You’ve only come to see the Arsenal’. A Boyce body check stopped a Cole run. Henry to Vieira who won a corner but a goal kick was given. A harmless cross from Johnson. ‘Let’s all laugh at Tottenham’ Jens out to clear. Cesc found Henry wide right who fired over from a somewhat ambitious narrow angle. A great tackle by Lauren after Cesc had on this rare occasion wasted a pass. Cesc won another ball and tried a one-two with Henry that didn’t quite work. Sorondo went down injured and was replaced by Leigertwood with the outstanding Boyce moving to centreback.
Pat taken down from behind but no free kick.
The one redeeming feature in Palace’s ground is their screen, and at this point it showed a staggering 67% possession for Arsenal. Kolo cut out a good Palace move, one of their first. Lehmann miss-kicked a ball and it cannoned off Johnson’s head who fortunately knew little about it. Pires to Reyes for a shot and a big shout for handball. A series of free kicks by Watson and Riihilahti disrupted what rhythm we’d got going. Our set plays continue to be somewhat inept against a packed defence. Kolo went on a run and had a decent enough shot saved. We won more corners but they failed to excite or more importantly threaten.
Pat was clipped on a run and advantage was played but didn’t happen. There was a Pires shot that lacked power before a great little move involving Pat Pires and Henry whose stunning low cross was just out of reach for Freddie who was steaming in at the far post. Half time and a fair bit of moaning amongst the away fans about the lack of this that and the other.
Hughes tripped Vieira who came in for a fair bit of treatment, played well in patches but also gave away a lot of poor passes. As we now had Freddie and Lauren on out touchline it was very apparent just how little support Ljungberg was getting with Reyes, Henry, Pires and often our central midfield pairing all veering to the left. Cygan won the ball against Johnson and got booked, the only booking of the game and very unjust considering the battering Pat was taking.
Their resulting free kick was headed clear by Cesc who has an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time.
Arsenal were spreading play well as Cole shot far too high. Pat was hacked down in a Palace sandwich and the pathetic Eagles fans booed. Yet again a referee was failing to provide sufficient protection. Routledge who’d been in Cole’s pocket was replaced by Lakis. Another move that spread all over the pitch saw Reyes shot saved low by Kiraly in his silly grey pyjama bottoms. What does he wear in winter? Cygan saw off Johnson and Lauren won a corner as Arsenal continued to press. Fabregas shot wide. Jens was out well to set up a fast counter in which Henry won a corner. A Pires header went just over. After about an hour’s play the shot count had been 15-0 to the Arsenal. After 63 minutes it was 1-0 to the Arsenal. Fabregas started a move that went to Freddie wide right and he fired in a great low cross. Henry got there before his marker and the goal was inevitable. It was all Arsenal at this point so the result looked on.
Within a couple of minutes however Lakis found Johnson down the right and his low accurate cross was met by Riihilahti who was steaming in to score from close range. Palace fans and players were beside themselves with delight and should have had the lead when a carbon copy move was fired over the bar from about three yards out. Arsenal continued to batter the Eagles at the other end. Kolo set up Pires to win a corner and there was a decent shot from Cesc well saved. A Johnson cross saw Leigertwood head wide with what looked like a free header.
With about twenty minutes to go Van Persie and Bergkamp replaced Pires and Ljungberg. Pires I thought had worked really hard. Freddie hadn’t been at his best but had lacked support. Pat and Henry combined well but Reyes shot over. His body language pointed to a loss of confidence so he didn’t need Henry’s glare what he needed was support and encouragement. A remarkable turn by Van Persie set himself up for a shot that produced another fine save. Dennis did well and found Reyes but Van Persie’s shot was blocked. Freedman replaced Kolkka and Flamini replaced the visibly tiring Fabregas.
A cross from Dennis was met with a big call for handball but not given. Bergkamp had a volley that was saved at the near post. Lauren stopped Johnson before Robin got one on one versus the keeper but he was out well to smother. It was Kolo’s turn to stop Johnson on a break and having scored eight of Palace’s twelve goals, prior to this match, this season you do wonder what they’d do without him. It was all Arsenal as the ball boys disappeared. Funny that. In the first half balls were being chucked back on the pitch almost before they’d gone out but now there wasn’t a ball in sight, even in the dugout. Not the sort of thing the F A video panel will examine, but I think they should.
Three minutes added time saw Freedman performing slow motion dives good enough to fool Mike Dean. Very disappointing from a Gooner standpoint but we was not that far away from the real Arsenal. It will take the merest bit of luck for things to get back in the groove and when that happens we are going to tear some poor outfit apart.
The Palace announcer said at the end of the match that today’s game ‘was what football was all about’. Really? Ten or eleven players behind the ball may be what the game is all about on your side of the river mate, but that’s not what the beautiful game should be all about. I can’t and won’t fault Palace’s commitment but maybe, just maybe the delirious celebrations of the Eagles fans says far more about Arsenal’s current status in the scheme of things. Holding Arsenal to a draw at home just points to our excellence and a mediocre run of results hasn’t changed that simple fact.
Further evidence that they speak a different language south of the river was this strange wording and spelling on an official notice I saw in the Arthur Wait Stand: Please remain seated while the game is in progress as standing will inconvenience other and may lead to your ejections from the stadium – An F.A.Directive.
Just for the record I stood all game and had no ejections! And finally here’s a reminder for anyone who’s into the gloom and doom scenario and in need of a laugh: Tottenham. Just to emphasise the point here are some selected Premiership goalscorers Arsenal 32, Henry 10, Tottenham 8.