Belfast Telegraph

Crystal Palace embarrass Arsenal, but boss Wenger still defiant

By Mark Mann-Bryans

Arsene Wenger's future as Arsenal manager plunged into further uncertainty last night as the Gunners were soundly beaten at Crystal Palace.

Having won just two of their last seven Premier League games before travelling to Selhurst Park, Arsenal arrived late in south London and never got out of first gear as Sam Allardyce got one over his old foe - with the 3-0 victory easing Palace's relegation fears in the process.

Former Tottenham man Andros Townsend opened the scoring before Yohan Cabaye's well-taken second was added to from the penalty spot by Luka Milivojevic.

Large sections of Arsenal's support ended the night with a chorus of "Arsene Wenger, we want you to go" and "you're not fit to wear the shirt" - with protests against the 67-year-old likely to ramp up as they remain sixth following this damaging defeat.

On questions about his future, Wenger said: "I face it in every press conference at the moment but tonight I'm not in the mood to speak about it.

"At the moment I pay more respect to the fact we had a disappointing result. What counts is how we perform, the players and myself, and I feel everyone is focused at the club to do it."

Asked if uncertainty about his future is affecting the players, he said: "No, I don't think so."

The Gunners boss added: "They were sharper than us in many decisive situations. It's not the right moment to analyse. We had a lot of the ball, a lot of possession.

"We won many second balls as well but in the decisive duels they were stronger, yes.

"It's damaging, of course. On that front that is the most difficult for us. It has consequences on our chances to be in the top four. You understand that our fans are very unhappy. They came here with the hope they'd win the game.

"Every defeat is a big worry. I've managed over 1,100 games for Arsenal and we're not used to losing like that. It's a big worry. Unfortunately it is like that and we have to respond very quickly.

"I'm disappointed and determined to put things right. Tonight the worry is not me, it's the fact we lost a big game.

"I don't think my players didn't want it, but we lost duels in decisive moments and that's how games are decided at this level.

"I understand our fans are disappointed, we all are deeply. It's very worrying and disappointing the way we lost the game. Palace were sharp, they beat Chelsea, and that shows they have quality.

"We are in a difficult position. The game tonight doesn't help."

Arsenal skipper-for-the-night Theo Walcott admitted they let the fans down.

"We thought we had bounced back from that bad patch with the draw against Manchester City and win against West Ham.," he said. "It doesn't look like it after this.

"We are all disappointed, like the fans are - we let them down.

"We can only apologise. They wanted it more. You could sense that from the kick-off."

Jubilant Crystal Palace boss Allardyce said: "Tactically the players were aware of how to beat Arsenal. The first thing was to defend and frustrate them, keep them playing sideways, then use the space behind the full-backs. Arsenal have been weak defensively, they leave the centre-backs exposed.

"We won a lot of possession off them and created lots of chances. Cabaye's goal, what a finish - that was down to us pressing them.

"It wasn't a shock for me because we played Chelsea and won that game. The result might be a shock, but we did that again and did it better. We all know Arsenal are going through their worst spell for years, but the only way to take advantage is by playing well. Everything worked perfectly for us"

The loss means Arsenal are 20 points clear of relegation-threatened Palace but 21 points shy of Premier League leaders Chelsea as Wenger's knack of delivering top-four finishes and Champions League qualification now faces a stern test.

Cabaye was a surprise inclusion in the Palace side having been forced off with a calf injury last week and the France international blazed an early chance over having been played in by Jeffrey Schlupp.

His midfield partner was next to try his luck but Milivojevic could only arrow a long-range effort wide of Emiliano Martinez's right-hand post.

Arsenal's first opportunity fell to Mohamed Elneny, who won a corner as his shot from outside the box was pushed behind by Wayne Hennessey.

But it did not take long for Palace to find their range, as Allardyce's men built up a head of steam which was rounded off as Townsend ghosted in unmarked to convert Wilfried Zaha's scuffed cross.

Falling behind incensed Wenger but it seemed to wake up his side, with Alexis Sanchez forcing a smart stop out of Hennessey.

The Gunners were struggling to break down Palace and Christian Benteke exchanged passes with Zaha before his low shot was tipped behind by Arsenal's third-choice goalkeeper.

The Eagles returned after the interval and continued where they left off, Hector Bellerin blocking a Benteke shot behind.

Martinez's blushes were spared moments later as he spilled a tame Townsend shot at the feet of Benteke, who was flagged offside after stroking the ball home.

Wenger turned to his bench, with Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey the go-to guys.

But it was Palace who were celebrating again as another Zaha cross was superbly curled home by Cabaye.

The night would get even worse for Wenger as Martinez gave away a needless penalty, diving in at the feet of Townsend.

Milivojevic made no mistake as the Serbia international tucked away his first goal since joining Palace in January.

The goal was enough for Arsenal fans to turn on both Wenger and their team.

The victory takes Allardyce's side six points clear of the relegation zone with just seven games left but the defeat, and the manner in which it was inflicted, could have a lasting impact on Wenger and a number of his players.

Belfast Telegraph


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