Arsenal midfielder nets brace to defeat Crystal Palace and reclaim top spot
17:53 02 February 2014
Premier League: Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 0
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain marked his first league start since August with a second-half double to send Arsenal back to the top of the Premier League.
The England international, who missed almost five months of the season with a cruciate ligament injury, scored twice to see off a stubborn Palace side, who worked hard to thwart the Gunners in a scoreless first half.
But Oxlade-Chamberlain made the breakthrough with a neat lob early in the second period, his first Arsenal goal since December 2012.
And the midfielder netted again after a one-two with Olivier Giroud to put his side ahead of Manchester City in the league table again – at least until Monday night, when City face Chelsea.
Arsenal rarely came close to piercing the well-organised Eagles defence during the first half, with Damien Delaney in particular getting in some vital interceptions to break down attacks.
And when the home side did succeed in breaching the wall, they ran into Julian Speroni, who successfully smothered the overlapping Nacho Monreal as he raced onto Mesut Ozil’s measured pass early on.
Speroni’s best save came 10 minutes before half-time as Ozil clipped in a free-kick and Laurent Koscielny peeled away for a glancing header that seemed destined for the far corner until the Palace goalkeeper leapt to his right to push the ball clear.
At the other end, former Gunner Marouane Chamakh flourished in his withdrawn role behind Cameron Jerome, although the assured and tidy work of Per Mertesacker ensured that Palace’s attacks usually foundered.
It was Chamakh who came closest for the visitors, latching onto Jerome’s lay-off and getting away from Koscielny, but Wojciech Szczesny came out to prevent the shot.
However, Arsenal broke the stalemate just 90 seconds after the restart as Santi Cazorla sauntered infield and delivered an incisive pass to Oxldae-Chamberlain, who controlled the ball on his right foot and lifted it over Speroni with his left.
Palace almost produced an immediate response as Jason Puncheon’s cross was helped on by Yannick Bolasie to Jerome, whose header was pushed behind by Szczesny.
Jerome was replaced soon afterwards by Barry Bannan and the Eagles’ substitute had a sniff of an equaliser when Puncheon set him up from distance, but he drilled the chance over the bar.
And the Gunners doubled their lead 17 minutes from time when Oxlade-Chamberlain found Giroud with a deft back-heel, scampering away to collect the return pass and beat Speroni with a low right-foot finish.
Palace never looked like folding – but, equally, they never looked likely to narrow the deficit, although Bolasie and Jonathan Parr blazed hopeful attempts wide of the target late on.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arteta; Cazorla, Ozil (Gibbs 84), Podolski (Rosicky 72); Giroud (Bendtner 84).
Crystal Palace: Speroni; Ward, Gabbidon, Delaney, Parr; Puncheon, Dikgacoi, Jedinak; Bolasie; Chamakh (Gayle 82); Jerome (Bannan 56).