2nd February, 2014
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored twice as Arsenal moved back to the top of the Premier League table with a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
With previous leaders Manchester City hosting Chelsea on Monday, Arsene Wenger’s team had an opportunity to regain top spot and, thanks to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first goals of the season, they seized it.
The midfielder, 20, was making just his second league start of the campaign after missing the first five months of it with a knee problem.
And with Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey out through injury, Wenger had brought in Kim Kallstrom on loan from Spartak Moscow to boost his midfield options.
But the Sweden international signed with a back problem that, despite the club doctors informing Wenger prior to the transfer, could mean that he misses around six games.
Wenger chose to deploy Oxlade-Chamberlain in central midfield and also turned to Lukas Podolski for just his fifth Premier League start of the campaign to add some creativity alongside Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla.
But Palace nullified them with surprising ease for 45 minutes as manager Tony Pulis opted to anchor Mile Jedinak and Kagisho Dikgacoi in front of his defence in the hope of stifling the home side.
The hosts fired an early warning when Ozil spotted left-back Nacho Monreal racing upfield and lifted a superb ball over the Palace defence.
The angle was tight for the Spain defender, but he still forced Julian Speroni into a fine stop with his legs.
Monreal’s chance appeared to increase Palace’s resolve not to let Arsenal go into an early lead and one of their former players nearly put the visitors in front on 14 minutes.
Marouane Chamakh has looked rejuvenated in recent weeks and when he received the ball in midfield, he easily skipped past Laurent Koscielny.
But just as he was bearing down on Wojciech Szczesny, his touch eluded him and the Arsenal goalkeeper dived at his feet to save.
The closest either side came in the opening half was on 34 minutes when Ozil’s free-kick was met by the head of Koscielny.
The central defender got the faintest of touches, but as the ball looked destined for the corner of the net, Speroni fully extended himself to make a fine save.
However, all of Palace’s first-half efforts counted for little just two minutes into the second half.
On the first occasion that Jedinak failed to close down Arsenal’s midfield, Cazorla found space to clip a majestic ball over the Palace back line and Oxlade-Chamberlain ghosted into the area before lobbing over the advancing Speroni.
Moments later, with Bacary Sagna caught upfield, Jason Puncheon found space on Palace’s left wing.
The attacking midfielder, who made his move to Palace from Southampton permanent on Friday, crossed and Yannick Bolasie headed the ball on to Cameron Jerome, whose header was well stopped by Szczesny.
Cazorla was at then at the heart of another of Arsenal’s better moves when he found Arteta, who rolled the ball on to Podolski, but the Germany forward fired wide when he should have at least tested Speroni.
With Arsenal still dominating possession but also looking more likely to make it count, Pulis brought on midfielder Barry Bannan for Jerome in the hope of adding some craft.
Within minutes Puncheon had beaten Arsenal’s offside trap and cut the ball back to Bannan, but the Scot fired over from 15 yards.
Oxlade-Chamberlain then sealed the win on 73 minutes when he received the ball from substitute Rosicky and exchanged passes with Olivier Giroud before sprinting into the area and driving past Speroni.