That was certainly much more like it from Arsenal. A 2-1 win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park this afternoon, secured thanks to a stunning strike by Olivier Giroud and an own-goal forced by Alexis Sanchez, sees us shoot up this embryonic Premier League table to 11th.
Arsene Wenger thankfully opted to correct last week’s bizarre decision to move Santi Cazorla from central midfield to the left flank, and the Spaniard returned to partner Francis Coquelin in front of the defence today.
Alexis Sanchez came into the starting 11 at the expense of a benched Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, to play from his usual left-sided role, with Aaron Ramsey moving to the right. At the back, Hector Bellerin replaced Mathieu Debuchy at right fullback.
On what was a newly-laid Selhurst Park pitch, and by the look of it, a widened one too, we immediately appeared a far more composed, cohesive, and hence creative, attacking unit than against West Ham on the opening day. It’s hard to pick out an individual for praise in that opening spell because they were all outstanding and the hosts were left chasing shadows for the most part.
But at the heart of it all was Cazorla, who regulated our passing from deep and proved no less a defensive asset, taking up great positions on several occasions through sheer intelligence and game-reading, to halt Palace attacks.
For me, and I said this after our pre-season win over Everton last month, Cazorla is critical for our functioning as a side and must be played where he was today. If that means the likes of Ramsey and Jack Wilshere have to play in roles they wouldn’t consider their first choice then tough luck I’m afraid, because they simply cannot replicate what Cazorla produces in that position.
And with all the talk of a new striker need amongst fans and pundits alike, Giroud showed he has plenty to offer at the tip of the attack by acrobatically volleying home Mesut Ozil’s considered left wing cross to put us one nil up after 16 minutes.
It was undoubtedly a world class finish by a player who may not be in the very top bracket of strikers, and even today showed signs of frustrating more refined team-mates (especially Ozil) with his, shall we say, less than nimble footwork, but who can be a potent poacher against a lot of defences in this league. It really was some effort to kickstart our goals scored column for the new campaign.
Inevitably though, we didn’t maintain our hypnotising opening spell of football for the whole of the first half, and Palace punished some rare bad defending by Laurent Koscielny to restore parity through Joel Ward’s skidding long-range strike after 28 minutes.
In truth, it was a criminal lack of closing down by our otherwise impeccable number six and all the more baffling as it smacked a little of complacency – something the manager said was partly to blame for our defeat seven days ago. It was almost as if the Frenchman did’t think that player would trouble Petr Cech from that range. Unfortunately for us, Ward produced a great strike and Cech could do nothing to stop it arrowing into the bottom corner to his right.
Cue a social media maelstrom of ‘Mesut’s sh*t’, ‘we’re all f*cked’ and ‘Wenger’s a wally’ until that is, we regained the lead courtesy of a Bellerin cross to the back post, which was met by the whirlwind that is Sanchez, whose header may well have been en route to the inside of the far post, but was instead diverted into his own net by Damien Delaney ten minutes into the second half.
The impressive Coquelin, who was cautioned in the first half and clearly targeted by the home support and players as a man they could help to get sent off, was removed from the action and replaced by the Ox just after the hour mark, with Ramsey moving into the centre alongside Cazorla.
It was a timely intervention by Arsene as Coquelin had been warned one more foul would result in his dismissal. We then made further changes to shore up our defence as Palace chased an equaliser, bringing on Mikel Arteta and Kieran Gibbs for Sanchez and Ozil to help close out the game as we did against Chelsea in the Community Shield at Wembley a fortnight ago.
Overall, we produced the necessary result against an improved Palace outfit who will no doubt make life difficult for all the top teams when they visit south London this season. Our first three points of the season safely on the board and a return to a more fluent formation before we entertain Liverpool a week tomorrow – the best possible response to last week’s defeat.
Meanwhile up in Manchester, Jose Mourinho hooked his captain after 45 minutes and saw his reigning champions get handed a lesson in expansive, expensively-assembled attacking play, as Chelsea hilariously lost 3-0 to ensure zero wins from their opening two games for the first time since the 1998-99 season.
So almost the perfect Sunday, and I say almost, because although it’s always a pleasure to see Mourinho and Chelsea get beat, the best result from an Arsenal title challenge perspective, would surely have been a draw between last year’s top two – especially considering the commanding manner in which City have started their season.
Back tomorrow with post-match reaction etc.