Arteta’s Arsenal are PL winners in waiting as stunning 16-month growth sees them pass Palace test

Lewis Oldham
Arsenal vs Palace
Martin Odegaard scores for Arsenal.

Arsenal are on track to become Premier League champions as Mikel Arteta’s side toiled to win at Crystal Palace in a game they’d have lost 16 months ago…


This was the third time Arsenal have played at Selhurst Park in the last 16 months and the Mikel Arteta #process has taken huge strides forward since his side’s tepid 3-0 loss to Crystal Palace in April 2022.

That damaging defeat came during a dire stretch of results that saw them lose half of their final 12 games during the 2021/22 Premier League run-in as an ill-equipped Arsenal side surrendered Champions League qualification with a whimper.

Just four months later, the Gunners produced a statement of intent on the 2022/23 opening day as they earned an assured 2-0 win from their tough away trip to Selhurst Park.

The Gunners by no means had it all their own way in that 2-0 triumph. They had to ride out some pressure from Palace in a game that the Arsenal of old would have lost and it proved to be a statement win that preceded an unexpected (but sustained) tilt at the Premier League title.

Under a manager who continues to enhance his reputation, Arsenal have surpassed expectations in each of the past two seasons to battle for the top four and then for the title. But Arteta’s men will not benefit from being a surprise package this term; it is now expected that they will be the challengers for Manchester City’s Premier League title crown.

And if they are to do so, it is a must for them to pick up all three points in tricky fixtures like Palace away and they managed that on Monday night – even while playing the final 25 minutes or so with ten men – without *too* much stress.

Arsenal vs Palace
Takehiro Tomiyasu is sent off for Arsenal.

Arsenal (in their God-awful away strip) were unsurprisingly the side on the front foot from the opening minute and they were largely dominant during the first half.

Stand-in striker Eddie Nketiah was at the forefront of most of Arsenal’s good play during the opening half. The Englishman had two big chances before the interval; he was a tad unlucky as he struck the post after a cute turn, but he had to do better with his second attempt in the 35th minute.

The Gunners had the majority of the ball in the early exchanges but their play lacked penetration. They can be forgiven for not being at their breathtaking best at this stage of the campaign and the one time they were in full flow, a brilliant passing move resulted in Nketiah chipping the ball over the bar following a precise through ball by Declan Rice.

It could have easily turned into a very frustrating night for Arsenal, but they found a breakthrough after 51 minutes.

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Nketiah was hauled down inside the penalty area by ‘keeper Sam Johnstone following a quick free-kick and captain Martin Odegaard expertly sent the Englishman the wrong way and slotted the ball into the bottom corner from the spot.

Arteta and his players would have been hoping for a calm end to the game, but their task was made more complicated by Takehiro Tomiyasu’s sending-off for two bookings with around 25 minutes to go.

The defender’s first card came as he was adjudged to have been time-wasting from a throw-in. This was harsh but his second card – for pulling back Ayew to prevent a counter-attack – was less so.

This forced an end-of-game rejig from Arteta as their defensive capabilities were tested by Palace, who finished on the front foot but failed to create anything of note.

Odsonne Edouard should have scored with his header as he found himself free in the middle of the penalty area, but this was as nervy as it got for Arsenal, who held firm and showed admirable resolve to pick up a hard-earned victory in their first away game of the season.

It was a night of what could have been for Palace, who should be just fine this season. On the evidence of the first two game weeks, there will be at least three teams worse than them this season (I’m looking at you Everton, Luton Town and Sheffield United).

Michael Olise sticking around is a huge boost and he will combine well with the always-dangerous Eberechi Eze under Roy Hodgson, who is just as passionate as ever, which was made evident by his Neil Warnock-esque gyrating from the touchline.

Meanwhile, Arsenal have maximum points from their opening two games without coming close to playing to their maximum potential.

Arteta’s men – like Manchester City – will inevitably improve as the season progresses but raised expectations at the Emirates mean that if they are to come closer (or even go all the way) in the title race, similar tests are to come and they will have to pass most of them to become champions.

That may not happen this season, but the Arsenal team of April 2022 would have lost this game and performances like Monday night’s prove that they are champions in waiting.

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