Football: Grimandi closes the door on Palace

Arsenal 1 Grimandi 49 Crystal Palace 0 Attendance: 38,094
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GILLES GRIMANDI scored his first goal for a depleted Arsenal side to leave Crystal Palace in deeper relegation trouble and lift his team's spirits as they maintained their push at the top. This was not a great or even good game, but Arsenal are now second in the table and winning matches such as this one is often the mark of a side that will succeed come the end of the season.

Arsenal could have won by more and Luis Boa Morte was guilty of a shocking miss from a few yards out, but three points with a depleted side should give Arsenal the confidence to maintain their championship challenge and they remain the most likely pretenders to Manchester United's throne.

Now Palace and Arsenal meet again in Wednesday's fifth round FA Cup replay. This Premiership game, however, will probably turn out to be the more significant of the two games.

There was a lot at stake for both sides going into this match, but the Highbury crowd had rarely been so subdued at kick-off. They were presumably still stunned at losing to Chelsea in the Coca-Cola Cup on Wednesday, mindful of the bore draw of last week-end's FA Cup tie with Palace and puzzled by the fact that their line-up resembled a combined youth and reserve team rather than the star- studded side they have grown used to seeing.

Their manager Arsene Wenger's pre-match injury warnings were proved to be of substance as Dennis Bergkamp, Ray Parlour, Emmanuel Petit and Nigel Winterburn joined the long-term casualties David Seaman, Ian Wright and Steve Bould in the stands. Even the captain Tony Adams was there to keep them in check as he was suspended. Palace had their problems too, missing almost half a dozen key players, but, as is so often the case in football, the change in personnel did not seem to alter the teams' approach and the game started in the same lifeless fashion that had been a feature of their goalless Cup tie.

The first player to show any invention was Arsenal's Portuguese winger Luis Boa Morte. Drafted in as Bergkamp's replacement in attack, Boa Morte fooled the Palace defence with a neat back-heel in the ninth minute and David Platt was only just denied from scoring at the near post when he was crowded out by a pack of Palace defenders.

The next attack, from either side, came 20 minutes later when Platt released Anelka on the right and the French striker drilled a low shot which goalkeeper Kevin Miller diverted for a corner with his feet. Platt then headed over the bar.

Palace squeezed in their first shot on the half hour, but Dean Gordon's drive from 20 yards out was so wide it resulted in an Arsenal throw-in.

Bruce Dyer's miss a few minutes later, a foot wide, was a greater crime. He should have scored from three yards out after a low Jamie Smith cross.

Arsenal began to get hold of the match towards the end of the first half and went within inches of scoring when the reserve team defender Matthew Upson headed against a post from a corner by Paolo Vernazza.

The momentum stayed with them after the break as Stephen Hughes struck dangerously across the face of the Palace goal within seconds of the restart and Arsenal then scored, in the 49th minute, through Grimandi. The much- maligned French defender volleyed in from six yards, after Palace had failed to clear a Vernazza corner, to mark his first goal for the club.

Now Arsenal finally turned it on. Anelka shot just over the bar moments later, Miller saved well from a Platt header and Palace were struggling to get out of their own half.