Arsenal show poor form was little more than a blip, while pressure mounts on Roy Hodgson

Arsenal 5-0 Crystal Palace: The Gunners returned emphatically to winning ways and played with freedom

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer at the Emirates Stadium
Saturday 20 January 2024 16:04 GMT
Roy Hodgson says there were ‘infringements’ on Arsenal’s first two goals following 5-0 defeat

Arsenal managed to ease all the noise around them while increasing the noise around Roy Hodgson. This had looked like it was going to be a nice little story of Mikel Arteta’s side managing to get going again, with a nod to their past. With former manager George Graham watching on, Arsenal twice scored through the set-piece route that helped win the Scot two league titles at this club. That instead served to finally release Arteta’s side after a month of relative malaise, and this 2-0 turned into 5-0 and a much grimmer tale for Hodgson. He is surely on the brink, as Palace now look at real risk of falling into a relegation battle.

Their typically loud fans made it very clear they have far bigger concerns, holding up banners stating “wasted potential on and off the pitch, weak decisions taking us backwards”. It comes amid stories of increasing tension in the hierarchy and a report by The Independent that Palace co-owner John Textor is about to begin the process of selling his shares.

There does feel an air of wasted potential, given the club had made a virtue of bringing through so much talent from south London. That also meant that a game that could have been quite awkward for Arsenal, given recent results, ended up being a match that engendered a return to form.

The Crystal Palace fans made their displeasure known
The Crystal Palace fans made their displeasure known (AP)

They gradually got back to their attacking best, although it was in the context of a Palace collapse. That isn’t to take credit away from Arsenal, it’s just that in a game when they wanted to add a bit of freedom to their play again, Hodgson’s team offered them plenty of space.

That was especially true in the box. Arsenal essentially made the game secure after just minutes, as Gabriel scored the first of his two headers from corners, although his second goal was scrubbed off as an own goal, courtesy of Palace’s goalkeeper’s Dean Henderson head. That will no doubt have pleased the watching Graham all the more, given it was a virtue of his title-winning teams. All that was missing here was the flick-on at the front post from the other centre half.

It wasn’t quite a case of a neat one-off in front of the old boss, though. The current boss will be just as pleased since this is something he has sought to perfect. Arsenal’s first two goals made it 10 from corners this season, the most in the Premier League. This was what they worked on in that January break, which had made the wait since the last win that bit longer.

The orchestrated manner of the goals is nevertheless more pointed since one of the major issues before Arsenal went away, and which effectively cost them the top spot over Christmas, was a sudden inability to put the ball in the net. They’ve at least rediscovered one way, and that did open them up a bit.

Arsenal played with freedom during their rout of Palace
Arsenal played with freedom during their rout of Palace (Reuters)

By the time of Leandro Trossard’s brilliant breakaway goal, Arsenal were cutting through Palace. Hodgson might have been fortunate it wasn’t more as Gabriel Martinelli scored two almost identical goals on the run himself.

The very fact Arsenal looked so confident again may reflect something less concerning about that December-January run. Arsenal needed a break, in the simplest terms. They had overperformed in attack last season and looked a little overworked in this campaign, with Bukayo Saka appearing to most visibly suffer from fatigue. There was none of that here. There was freedom again.

It’s just as well given Arsenal have investigated whether they can buy Ivan Toney or another forward, but would need to make a significant sale to meet profit and sustainability restrictions. Barring any unexpectedly drastic chances, this is the squad for the second half of a season that will see Arteta go for the league and Champions League.

The domestic cup eliminations bring more time on the training ground, and this is what he needs to hone to perpetuate the flow of this performance and recover the verve of much of last season.

The pressure is mounting on Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson
The pressure is mounting on Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson (AFP via Getty Images)

They know it will be what’s needed with Manchester City almost certain to go on a run. Declan Rice did go off gesturing to his hamstring but that was apparently more of a precaution.

As regards what the second half of that season will look like for Hodgson, it’s suddenly that bit more uncertain. The fact the three bottom sides look likely to go down means the pressure isn’t acute but if it was anything like last season or the season before – where half the league was involved in the relegation battle – Palace would be in serious trouble.

One of the most concerning aspects is how a team built on defence can’t seem to defend. Hodgson seemed understandably furious as they conceded too easily from those corners, but then that kind of organisation is supposed to be his speciality. Palace fans made it clear the club has much more to think about.

Arsenal, meanwhile, looked like they had a weight lifted. A wait was certainly lifted, given this was their first Premier League win in over a month.

That is partly a quirk of the calendar due to the January break. That same break, however, might well have shown Arsenal’s December run was little more than a blip.

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