AT SELHURST PARK
CRYSTAL PALACE 1 ARSENAL 2
RELIEVED Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted that irreparable damage could have been caused to his side’s season had they not bounced back from opening day defeat with victory at Crystal Palace.
An own goal from Palace skipper Damien Delaney ensured that Selhurst Park remains a happy hunting ground for the Gunners – unbeaten there since 1979 – after Olivier Giroud and Joel Ward had exchanged first-half strikes.
Arsenal have not started a campaign with successive defeats since the inaugural Premier League season in 1992-93, and Wenger insisted that starting with back-to-back losses would have been a sizeable hurdle to navigate.
“To get the three points was already a little bit of a turning point in the Premier League for us because to lose would have been a big blow mentally,” said Wenger. “When they came back to 1-1 it was a mental test to see how we would respond to the defeat [to West Ham] last week. In the final part of the game we had to dig in and fight and we did it.”
Palace midfielder James McArthur had already cleared an Alexis Sanchez shot off the line by the time Arsenal surged into a 16th minute lead when Giroud converted a Mesut Ozil centre with an acrobatic scissor-kick.
Further Arsenal chances – invariably falling to Sanchez – came and went before Palace levelled shortly before the half hour mark, full-back Ward drilling a low shot past goalkeeper Petr Cech from the edge of the penalty area.
Palace were inches from taking the lead moments after the restart as £9m striker Connor Wickham’s effort thumped against Cech’s left-hand post. Arsenal went ahead again 10 minutes after the interval when Sanchez’s back-post header was turned into his own net by Delaney, while both sides continued to create and squander goal-scoring opportunities.
Palace manager Alan Pardew, who believed Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin should have been dismissed for persistent fouling, was adamant the early-season form of his new signings in particular suggest a productive season lies ahead.
“There were some great signs,” he said. “I thought Yohan Cabaye was terrific, as were Pape Souare, Connor Wickham, the goalkeeper [Alex McCarthy] and they are all relatively new players. That will give the players that have been here through promotion and two years of staying in this division real belief that we have brought in the quality.
“Now it’s a case of getting the balance of the team right.”