Arsenal’s season has taken another turn for the worse with a humbling 3-0 defeat to Crystal Palace at Selhurt Park to consign them to a seventh defeat of the Premier League season.
A goals from Andros Townsend gave Palace the lead before the break, before Yohan Cabaye and a Luka Milivojevic penalty in the second half sunk Arsenal, who now sit seven points off the Champions League qualification spots.
It was a dreadful night for the Gunners as they were outplayed and outfought by Sam Allardyce’s Palace, with Wenger consigned to a first defeat to the Eagles in 14 matches and four consecutive league defeats for the first time ever. The Frenchman looked a forlorn figure on the Arsenal bench as he saw his side picked apart in a lacklustre performance that will heap further weight on a man that is already under considerable pressure to resign following his worst season in charge of the famous London club.
By contrast, the win was huge for Palace, and following their 2-1 win over Chelsea, they’ve risen to 34 points, now six clear of the drop. They've won five of their last six matches and are displaying the kind of form that keeps sides in the Premier League.
This north-south London derby could hardly have been scripted better. Arsenal came into the tie needing three points to draw level with Man United in their hunt for a Champions League spot; Palace are deep in the relegation battle, and needed three points to draw themselves away from the bottom three, which they sat just three points above heading into the clash.
Milivojevic curling a rasper at goal from 25 yards; the effort went narrowly wide but it was an early warning for the Gunners of their hosts’ intent. And Wenger’s side responded with Mohamed Elneny forcing Wayne Hennessy into a top-drawer save to prevent the ball hitting the top corner of the net.
If there were any lingering doubts about how up for it Allardyce’s Palace were, they were extinguished soon after. A long ball lashed forward from Hennessy was moved out wide right by Christian Benteke, Townsend and Cabaye to Wilfried Zaha on the right, who slipped a low, hard drive to the six-yard box, where Townsend was there to hammer home for the opener.
The focus of Arsenal’s attack was Alexis Sanchez as they channelled everything through him looking for a breakthrough, with the Chilean testing Hennessy, putting another curling effort just wide, and having a third chance blocked in a goalmouth scramble.
Palace were under the cosh, but using a flat back four, with two holding midfielders just ahead of them was proving expert in shutting out any daylight in the final third. And when they broke they were lightning quick with Benteke leading the line and testing Emiliano Martinez with a piledriver from the left of the area that the keeper was forced to turn around the post.
The Gunners had a chance to level when Gabriel got on the end of a cross to connect with a head on goal, but again Hennessy had it covered, as Palace went to the break with a hard-fought advantage.
Palace could have doubled their advantage mere minutes after the interval as Benteke was played in with his back to goal and swivelled to smash at goal with only a Hector Bellerin block preventing the effort hitting the net. Arsenal were at sixes and sevens and Palace sensed it as they went close again as Jason Puncheon directed a header towards the top-right corner with Martinez standing tall to claim.
Wenger brought Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud into the action just prior to the hour as he looked for something new from his side, following a truly dire opening to the second half. But it was to get worse, not better. Zaha was again the provider as he got away down the right, before picking out Cabaye at the top of the box, with the Frenchman lifting the ball over Martinez with an arcing lobbed shot that curled right to left to the top-left corner to deservedly double Palace’s lead.
And then it was three. Townsend got free on the left side of the area, with Martinez racing off his line to challenge for the ball, but only succeeding in taking the midfielder down with the referee pointing to the spot. Milivojevic stood up to take the spot kick and struck a textbook penalty as he dispatched the effort to the bottom left side of the net to leave the keeper no chance.
It left the Gunners 20 minutes to save the situation in some shape or form, but they created nothing; it was Palace who could have got the game’s fourth game with Benteke striking a volley on goal and Nachro Monreal forced into blocking away.
Arsenal and Wenger are in trouble, there can be no doubt about that; will he stay or will he go.
By Nick Royle
Munster will face last year's winners Saracens in the European Champions Cup semi-final at the Aviva Stadium on April 22 exclusively live on BT Sport, part of the eir Sport pack.