Arsenal 2 – 1 Crystal Palace – below par Gunners dig deep to win

Goals: 0-1 35′ Hangeland; 1-1 ’46 Koscielny; 2-1 ’90 Ramsey
Assists: Puncheon; Alexis
Red cards: ’88 Puncheon
Top performance: Ramsey
Poorest performance: Cazola

With Arsenal spending much of the game playing ‘total possession’ and Palace deploying a Tony Pulis style 4-5-1 to great effect to keep the Gunners at arms length, fans could be forgiven for thinking they were watching a re-run of last season’s match between the sides at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal would go on to win that game 2-0 as Palace tired late in the game. Today the Eagles struck first, with debutant Brede Hangeland flicking a header home at the near post. But the lead was shortlived, as Laurent Koscielny – the man who failed to notice Hangeland’s run for the first goal – redeemed himself with a stooping header of his own.

Ultimately however, the Gunners struggled to move the ball quickly enough as the game wore on, playing the vast majority of the game infront of the Palace backline. And so it took until the 90th minute before Palace failed to deal with yet another set piece, and Aaron Ramsey was able to strike from close range to give Arsenal an invaluable three points.

How did Alexis rate on his debut?

Alexis was enouraging on his Arsenal debut, but fans can expect much better to come against sides that do not defend quite so deep, and as the Chilean gets up to Premier League pace.

Arsenal spent much of the first half attempting to get Alexis and the marauding Debuchy on the ball on the right hand side. The majority of Arsenal’s attacking passes were aimed down the right flank, but although demonstrating some neat touches, Palace were able to keep Alexis relatively quiet.

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It was somewhat ironic then that Alexis’ biggest impact on the game when he switched flanks, delivering a superb set piece for Koscielny to head home an equaliser just before half time. In the second half the diminutive winger again alternated from right hand side to left, but although he provided some threat, his delivery was often wayward.

Nevertheless, Alexis demonstrated enough to indicate he can have a real impact for the Gunners this season.

Can Sanogo push for a regular starting place?

On today’s evidence, it appears not. Despite displaying some good control, and occasionally bringing teammates into the game, too often Sanogo was not able to influence the game in the final third.

His movement was not sufficient to create space for Arsenal’s array of midfield talent or persuade them to give him the ball. In total, he was found just 11 times in the 60 minutes he was on the pitch. Nor was he able to play midfield runners in behind the Crystal Palace defence – he played only 5 successful passes all game, only one of which was a forward pass in the final third. In total, he mustered just one effort at goal – a wild swing which went way wide from distance.

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In part, the defenders and midfielders of Crystal Palace must take some credit for keeping Sanogo so quiet. But as Giroud approaches full fitness, and with the transfer window still open, he would have hoped to have had a much bigger impact to prove to Arsene Wenger he deserves to feature more prominently this season.

Will Palace miss Pulis?

In the short term, the answer to that question may be no – at least on the pitch. Palace have clearly been well drilled by the Welshman over the past 9 months, and his former team displayed many of the hallmarks of a typical Pulis performance today – set pieces aside. The team were extremely well organised, and worked incredibly hard while maintaining their tactical discipline, limiting Arsenal to few clear cut chances.

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However, much will depend how long it takes to recruit a new coach, and what style they apply to the job. Pulis has drilled the South East London side very effectively, and whether any new coach decides to break with their existing patterns of play, or build upon them, will be critical to their fortunes this season – as will how much business they do in the remainder of the transfer window.

Can Arsenal win the title?

Although they ultimately picked up three points, Arsenal looked short of presence and quality in the final third of the pitch. The return of Walcott and Ozil will no doubt help improve their play, as will the integration of Alexis and Debuchy to their system of play.

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But the calls for Wenger to sign a world class striker before the end of August will only grow louder given the disappointing performance of Sanogo, and the low key impact of Giroud. If the Gunners are going to match Chelsea and Manchester City in the Premier League and the Champions League, they will likely require a further high profile striker, and perhaps even reinforcements in defence, given their lack of depth at centre half.

Overall verdict

12 months ago Arsenal lost their opening fixture 3-1 at home to a bouyant Aston Villa side. Although their performance was far from their best, today they managed to dig deep and grind out a win. Fans can expect more from Alexis as he settles in to the Premier League, but Arsenal may need to spend again in the transfer window if they want to challenge for the title.

Crystal Palace will be pleased with their performance and application, but matters off the pitch mean their future in the Premier League is very much up in the air.

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