Football: Palace get a timely injection of confidence

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Arsenal 1

Crystal Palace 2

VICTORY at Highbury is a significant achievement for any club. For Crystal Palace, Saturday's success could prove to be the most crucial stage of their entire season.

You had only to see the joy on the faces of players and supporters to appreciate that this meant much more to Palace than simply a first win since their return to the Premiership. Ian Wright's defection to Arsenal still rankles with many supporters, while the 3-0 defeat at Highbury which condemned Palace to relegation 17 months ago remains a painful memory.

Of deeper significance was the fact that Palace had developed a marked inferiority complex in relation to George Graham's side during their previous stay in the top flight. Arsenal had won six and drawn two of the eight previous League meetings between the two teams.

The manner of their victory could have a cathartic effect on Alan Smith's team. Young and inexperienced, they had started to look out of their depth this season, despite the undoubted talents of players like Chris Armstrong, John Salako and Gareth Southgate. This win should do wonders for their confidence.

In the first half, Arsenal's heavy-footed defence were exposed time and again by the pace of Armstrong and Salako. Salako's two goals, both set up by Armstrong, gave Palace an advantage at half- time which they defended resolutely after the break.

Arsenal were playing their second game in less than 48 hours, but on this evidence it will take more than an extra day of rest to revive their flagging Premiership fortunes. Like Aston Villa, who also excelled in Europe, Arsenal are in danger of developing a reputation as a 'big occasion' team.

They have several key players the wrong side of 30, and although they clearly have the talent and the experience needed to excel on the highest stages, they may no longer be best equipped to tackle the nine-month assault course that constitutes the domestic season.

The 30-year-old Wright, whose 100th goal for Arsenal gave them some hope, plays with the sparkle and energy of a 20-year-old, but the same cannot be said of some of his colleagues. Against Palace's youthful exuberance, Arsenal looked ponderous and predictable. If Graham's team are to make any sort of challenge in the League the cheque- book may be the only answer.

Goals: Salako (19) 0-1; Salako (41) 0-2; Wright (72) 1-2.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Linighan, Winterburn; Schwarz, Selley, Davis (Campbell, h-t), Merson; Wright, Smith. Substitutes not used: Keown, Bartram (gk).

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Martyn; Patterson, Coleman, Shaw, Gordon; Bowry, Southgate, Newman, Ndah; Armstrong, Salako. Substitutes not used: Dyer, Launders, Wilmot (gk).

Referee: M Bodenham (Looe, Cornwall).