Arsenal 1 Crystal Palace 0
THERE was a time earlier in the season when some of the Highbury faithful were already comparing Gilles Grimandi to Caesar - Gus Caesar, that is, the Arsenal defender immortalised in Fever Pitch as the worst defender in the club's history.
The Frenchman signed by Arsene Wenger in the summer made an undistinguished start to his career in north London and then got much worse, a series of disastrous performances epitomised by the needless goal he gave away in a defeat at Sheffield Wednesday.
At that stage Grimandi seemed destined for one of the shorter Premiership careers, but in the last month he has found his form so spectacularly that the only Caesar-like aspect to his game now is a certain empiric hautiness as he brings the ball out of defence.
After more than 225 goalless minutes between these two sides so far this season it was always going to require something special to end the stalemate, and shortly after half-time it was Grimandi who provided it, with his first goal for Arsenal. Latching on to a poorly cleared corner he struck a superb angled volley across Kevin Miller into the Palace net.
"In the last month he has done very well," Wenger said. "He did well in pre-season, but after that his confidence dropped and the crowd got a little bit on his back. It took time for him to come back." Wenger added that but for Arsenal's rash of injuries and suspensions Grimandi would have been rested for this game with a groin problem, and he remains doubtful for Wednesday's FA Cup replay between these two sides.
Wenger suggested that Grimandi's settling in problems may have had something to do with the vastly different stage on which he now performs. "In Monaco you can speak with the people in the stands, 'cos they are only a few. Suddenly he comes to Highbury where there is immense pressure, and I think he had a problem to cope with that at the start."
In truth Grimandi's strike was out of keeping with another tedious encounter between these two sides, one the home side barely deserved to win. Not that the performance worried Wenger unduly. Deprived of nine of his normal first 11, the Arsenal manager would have happily settled for 1-0 before the start, all the more so because, thanks to Blackburn and Chelsea's failings, it took his side into second place.
Without Attilio Lombardo for most of the last three months, and Michele Padavano for the last two, Steve Coppell, the Palace manager, knows all about injury crises and felt that Arsenal's merely made it an even game.
His side played with no little spirit, but their current parlous state was perfectly illustrated by their first two attempts on goal, just after the half hour: Dean Gordon's fierce shot went wide... for a throw in, then the woefully out of form Bruce Dyer missed the target from six yards when well set up by Jamie Smith.
Coppell who confessed that he was toying with the idea of changing his side's formation, agreed that they were "desperate for a win", but refused to blame the distraction of a possible takeover as the reason for their current failings. "To be honest it's not of great interest to me. I am trying 100 per cent to focus on the football team. It has little or no effect on me or the players," he said, before pausing theatrically. "Does that sound convincing?"
Goal: Grimandi (49) 1-0.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Manninger; Dixon, Grimandi, Keown, Upson; Vernazza (McGowan, 80), Vieira, Platt, Hughes; Boa Morte, Anelka. Substitutes not used: Lukic (gk), Rankin, Crowe, Day.
Crystal Palace (3-5-2): Miller; Ismael, Edworthy, Hreidarsson; Smith (Bent, 67), Gordon, Roberts, Fullarton, Rodger; Brolin, Dyer (Tuttle, 77). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk); Linighan, Emblen.
Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).
Bookings: Arsenal: Platt, Anelka, Dixon. Crystal Palace: Dyer, Fullarton, Hreidarsson, Roberts.
Man of the match: Grimandi.
Attendance: 38,094.Reuse content