Arsenal vs Crystal Palace match report: Yannick Bolasie denies tame Gunners who now face battle for fourth

Arsenal 1 Crystal Palace 1

Matt Gatward
Emirates Stadium
Sunday 17 April 2016 17:52
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Yannick Bolasie celebrates his late goal for Crystal Palace
Yannick Bolasie celebrates his late goal for Crystal Palace

Here we go again. The annual Arsenal fight for fourth.

Three months ago if most football followers had looked at the Sunday Premier League fixtures in mid-April they might have seen Arsenal v Palace as the match where the Gunners took another step towards that long-awaited title. Instead, the real championship-shaping drama had unfolded before kick-off here up the M1 where Leicester and West Ham scrapped out their draw. For Arsene Wenger’s team, it’s same old, same old after a Yannick Bolasie drive with eight minutes left cancelled out Alexis Sanchez’s opener.

Arsenal are fourth after the weekend action, sandwiched between the Manchester clubs - four points ahead of United in fifth and behind third-placed City on goal difference and that familiar scrap for Champions League football next term will dominate their run-in - not the hunt for silverware.

Arsene Wenger’s team looked to have won all three points and should have done -bossing the match in large parts - but were never able to add that second goal to Sanchez’s first and paid the price when Bolasie’s strike levelled matters. The jeers at the end told the story.

For Palace it was an unexpected fillip ahead of next week’s FA Cup semi-final against Watford.

Alexis Sanchez loops his header over Wayne Hennessey 

Wenger made just the one change to the side that blew a two-goal lead at West Ham last weekend - bringing back Petr Cech in goal for David Ospina. The manager decided to stick with Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny at the heart of the defence - eschewing the option to bring back Per Mertesacker and his added aerial ability - despite the torrid time the pair were given by balls into the box for Andy Carroll in that fluctuating 3-3 draw.

Mohamed Elneny produced the game’s first shot in anger - blocked - after a lay-off by Mesut Ozil, who then threaded a delightful ball to Danny Welbeck on the edge of the box - but the striker’s control let him down. Arsenal had little to show for their domination of possession in the first 20 minutes.

Bolasie’s pace on the break - to their credit the Eagles played two up top - led to the visitors’ first corner of the game when a retreating Francis Coquelin put the ball out after the Palace winger had won a duel with Gabriel on halfway. Cech, perhaps looking to reassert his dominance of the Arsenal box having been left out last week despite being fit, punched half-clear and Scott Dann headed the recycled ball wide. Bolasie then had the first shot on target for Palace, bending an effort from the edge of the box on the left - but Cech saved with ease.

Sanchez and Ozil combined but the Chilean’s cut-back, that begged for a late-running midfielder, found no one in red. Arsenal continued to push and probe, controlling the game in terms of possession, passes and prettiness without really threatening a solid Palace backline, causing the irritation levels to climb within the Emirates.

Ozil nearly placated the Gooners in the 43rd minute, playing a one-two with Sanchez before his toe-poke was blocked by the outrushing Wayne Hennessey but the half-time groans were averted when Sanchez - the game’s outstanding player along with Ozil - met Welbeck’s chipped through ball before Pape Souare to put a looping header over Hennessey and Arsenal into the lead.

The second half picked up the pattern of the first, Alex Iwobi’s cute back heel setting Welbeck free in the Palace box but his shot from a tight angle was straight at Hennessey. A quick free-kick from the quick-thinking Ozil was flicked just wide of the keeper’s left-hand post by the head of a diving Sanchez.

Palace were sitting deeper and deeper and seeing less of the ball but on a rare foray forward with 15 minutes to go won a corner off Koscielny which Bakary Sako forced Cech to tip over the bar. It was a sign of what was to come.

On 82 minutes, Adebayor, introduced to the predictable chorus of jeers for Connor Wickham, who got 65 service-starved minutes to help build his fitness for next week’s semi-final, broke down the left wing. The striker cut back before playing the ball to Bolasie 25 yards out. As he lined up the shot there seemed little danger but a fierce drive beat Cech low to his right. The goalkeeper got a fingertip to the ball but was unable to keep it out. Cue the groans and grumbles and the clatter of seats flipping up as the home fans took their leave feeling that they’ve been here before.

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