Crystal Palace v Arsenal: match report


Arsene Wenger endured another humiliating night as his side were soundly thumped 3-0 by Crystal Palace. Andros Townsend, Yohan Cabaye and a first Crystal Palace goal for Luka  Milivojević saw The Eagles add to Arsenal’s woes.


For Sam Allardyce he collects his second scalp in nine days as his Palace side started April by beating Chelsea 2-1.


Wenger will now face a fresh inquest surrounding his future. In contrast, the Allardyce-effect is in full flight and the future of Crystal Palace looks to be edging closer to playing in the Premier League next campaign.


On a night when Arsenal looked half-asleep throughout, Palace were the sharper side from the first whistle with Wilfried Zaha and Townsend tormenting the Gunners’ back four with their lightening pace down the flanks.


The game was only 17 minutes old when Zaha burst into the penalty area and, even though he slipped, his cross met Townsend sneaking in between an oblivious Hector Bellerin and Shkodran Mustafi to bundle the ball into the back of the net from close range.


Arsenal retainined much of the possession but made it count for little. Mohamed Elneny saw a long-range effort tipped wide by Wayne Hennessey in the Palace goal and Alexis Sanchez saw his effort trickle wide but Arsenal muster no clear-cut chances throughout the 90 minutes.


Granit Xhaka was perhaps the worst player in yellow on Monday night. The Swiss international was sluggish across the ground allowing Cabaye and company to exploit the spaces in midfield and his usually sound passing range was well out of sync.


In a bid to claw his side back into the contest Wenger sent on Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud in place of Elneny and an isolated Danny Welbeck. Yet, three minutes later, Arsenal found their deficit doubled thanks to a superb finish from Cabaye. The Frenchman collected a pass from Zaha before unleashing a delicious curling shot into the far side of Emiliano Martinez’s goal to send the home support into ecstasy.


Zaha continued his rich vein of form, ending the night with two assists and a standing ovation as he was withdrawn from proceedings on 88 minutes. The Ivory Coast winger is now beginning to fulfil the potential Sir Alex Ferguson saw in him when he paid £15m to bring him to Manchester United.


The Gunners had no plan B. Persisting to dominate possession of the ball and hit hopeful crosses into the box. The dismal performance continued, Martinez committed himself to a 50-50 ball with Townsend and sent the England winger tumbling – while little contact was made it was enough to convince referee Michael Oliver to point to the spot. Milivojević did the rest to put the home side three to the good.


Palace hounded the visitors into mistakes and the bouncing Selhurst Park played its part, too, creating a hostile atmosphere which saw players in yellow wilt.


Palace and their supporters enjoyed the game thereon in. ‘Ole’ chants greeted every completed Palace pass while Arsenal fans commenced their ongoing witch hunt for Arsene Wenger’s head, chanting “Arsene Wenger, we want you to go.” Perhaps this may be the straw which finally breaks the camel’s back, only time will tell.


Down the years, Wenger has often been the architect of the tactical masterclass. On this night, he found himself on the receiving end of one from long-time nemesis Big Sam.


Palace could have extended their advantage further with Christian Benteke having half chances to add a fourth goal, and, but from a credible performance from Martinez between the sticks for Arsenal, they may well have got it.


The autopsy of Arsenal has now reached new heights. The futures of key members of the squad still way up in the air, their once masterful manager, increasingly looking a caricature of his former self, yet to decide his fate and now Arsenal’s Champions League hopes hang by a thread. Currently seven points off the pace for fourth spot perhaps their lacklustre season looks ever more like marking the end of two decades of Champions League football, and perhaps Arsene Wenger.


He’s no Pep or Klopp but Big Sam is the right man


Sam Allardyce is set to become the latest man to pick up the poison chalice of being named the England manager. His imminent appointment has a more poignant feel than other hiring’s for the job. It’s been ten years since the last time Big Sam has been talked about seriously as a potential England manager – losing out to Steve McClaren in 2006.


Such is the age we live in social media has by enlarge rejected the appointment of Allardyce already looking to his successor – how insane is that? People are already calling for the man’s head and he hasn’t even been appointed yet.


Outrageous backlash aside the former Bolton Wanderers manager will be the nest England manager and before we drop the guillotine we should take a moment to seriously consider Allardyce’s achievements.


Success is measured in many ways – for coaches like Mourinho and Guardiola it’s silverware. For managers such as Big Sam it’s how to consolidate teams and make them competitive, saving them from relegation and building on that. Allardyce’s success comes in the shape of taking players with shattered confidence and making them believe in themselves. After inheriting a bunch of players at Sunderland who looked lost on the pitch Allardyce transformed them into snarling pumas – not scared kitty cats.


Sunderland were seven points adrift when Allardyce took to the helm. Fast forward to the end of the season and The Black Cats finished two points above the relegation zone at the expense of their bitter rivals Newcastle United. Sunderland lost just one of their final 11 games including show stopping performances against Manchester United, Chelsea and Everton.


To look forward to Allardyce’s appointment we must first look back – not too far back – to Euro 2016. France, Germany, Spain even England all boasted a wealth of attacking talent. The tournament was won by a solid, stubborn, organised Portugal team. Portugal won just one game in 90 minutes throughout the entire tournament but all that matters is they won it. Head Coach Fernando Santos set his side out to be diligent in defence and ruthless in attack – they rode their luck at times but every team needs luck to go all the way.


Santos built his team around a strong spine: Pepe at the back, emerging superstar Renato Sanches in midfield and Cristiano Ronaldo in attack. There was nothing flashy about Portugal and they way they played but everything they did was efficient and effective.


“Efficient” and “effective” are two words which would sum up Allardyce’s career. He gets the best out of what he has got and can tweak his formation according to the personnel he has available.


The biggest knock on Big Sam is his direct style of play, “19th century football” Jose Mourinho called it. Arsene Wenger has also slammed Allardyce in his Bolton days for his robust style of football. However, such things are no more than a tactic Allaredyce adopts rather than the makeup of his managerial abilities. When looking back on performances against Manchester United and Chelsea, Sunderland took the game to their opposition and attacked with intent – with the ball on the ground I might add.

The backbone of Allardyce’s tactics is still making the most of set plays and defending set plays well – but is that a bad thing? Organisation and structure? The very things England lacked throughout the Roy Hodgson reign.


One thing can be guaranteed from the ex-Newcastle manager and that’s organisation and structure. The clichéd headless chickens phrase sprung to mind watching England desperately try and rescue their Euro 2016 campaign against Iceland as they aimlessly threw players forward. Allardyce at least has a plan, get numbers in the box, get it out wide and get the ball into the box and attack it. By the law of averages – if the quality if good enough you will get a chance. Look no further than Jermain Defoe’s winner against Chelsea in May.


The defence would now like to make a case for defence. If you can stomach it, look back at any game of England at Euro 2016. What hit’s you the most? How bad the defending was. You stand more chance of winning games if you stop the opposition from scoring. While Danny Rose and Kyle Walker are tremendous going forward they often get caught out defensively. There seemed to be no communication between the two centre halves and Joe Hart was awful.


Allardyce to date has kept 131 clean sheets, the fifth most in Premier League history. Sunderland also kept four clean sheets in their last eight games to save their skin. Allardyce wants to build on a solid defence, score first, then counter attack. Sunderland took 28 points from a possible 39 when they scored first – a remarkable record.


Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Allardyce has a presence about him. He isn’t called Big Sam for nothing. He is a man’s man, unafraid of egos and not afraid to drop big names – Wayne Rooney may be sweating on his place in future squads – Allardyce will make sure that players selected play for the shirt, accepting nothing less than 100% effort and commitment from even fringe players.


Big Sam is not the most sophisticated man. He’s tough and direct (especially with his words). He doesn’t play tiki taka football and won’t attack just because of fan and media pressure. He’s a strong minded, tough and direct character with unshakable belief in himself – and his teams have always reflected that. At a time when the England national team are at their most fragile after their lowest point on the international stage, Big Sam is absolutely the right man to restore English pride.