Second half goals from Wilf Zaha and James McArthur helped Crystal Palace record their first ever win at the Emirates over a shell-shocked Arsenal.
Christian Benteke also scored his first goal in a year as the Eagles kept up their impressive form on the road to leave the Gunners stunned and ruing the chance to go third in the Premier League.
Palace, who had never won at the Emirates and only ever won twice way at Arsenal, the last being in 1994, made three changes from the team that lost to Manchester City last weekend. Jeffrey Schlupp’s season is over thanks to an injury picked up in that game so he was replaced by Cheikhou Kouyate, while Max Meyer got a rare start in place of Andros Townsend.
Joel Ward, another player rarely seen these days, replaced the underperforming Patrick van Aanholt at left-back; a position he hasn’t played since Tony Pulis was manager about five years ago. Goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey remained on the bench, presumably with a book on world history to keep him occupied.
Unai Emery, meanwhile, made so many changes for this game from the midweek win at Napoli there isn’t even time to list them all but know that he brought in Carl Jenkinson for a rare start on the right of a back-three and pitted him against Wilf Zaha which is bold at the best of times.
The opening exchanges were fairly even; Arsenal saw a lot of the ball but few chances. Mesut Ozil fired straight at Vicente Guaita from distance while down the other end Palace worked a good opening but Meyer’s tame left-footed shot didn’t even make it to Bernd Leno before being cleared.
Mohamed Elneny, another player re-introduced today, then volleyed over from 10 yards out, squandering the best chance of the game in the opening 15 minutes. But Martin Kelly went one better (or worse to be accurate) when he prodded Scott Dann’s back post header over from four yards out.
Christian Benteke, still searching for his first goal of the season on Easter Sunday(and since April 2018), then won a free-kick off Konstantinos Mavropanos, for which the Arsenal man was booked. Luka Milivojevic swung in a deep delivery and the big Belgian lost his marker to head firmly past Leno to give Palace a shock lead. He looked relieved to say the least.
The huge opportunity to jump over rivals Tottenham into third wasn’t lost on the Emirates crowd, who urged their side back into it, although more with frustrated groans than any actual chanting. The away end, meanwhile, was bouncing. Palace were yet to win at the Emirates in five attempts, their best result being a 1-1 draw in 2016.
Mavrapanos was getting involved all over the pitch, flicking on an Ozil corner that Mustafi headed over and the bursting forward and drilling a shot wide of Guaita’s goal as the Gunners searched for an instant reply.
The home fans and players had a big shout for a penalty five minutes before the break as Sead Kolasinac’s cross was blocked by Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s hands and to be honest, VAR would probably give that next season. Palace broke and Zaha beat three men before feeding Benteke who’s neat finish past Leno was rued out for offside. It was all happening.
Leno had to be alive right on half-time to deny Kouyate twice at his near post as the away side came very close to doubling their lead. From the resulting corner Benteke’s header was blocked in the box and he then blazed a very good chance over as the Eagles ended the half the strongest and the home fans were not impressed, some of them inevitably booing their side off at the interval.
Emery made two changes at the break with Alex Iwobi and Ainsley Maitland-Niles coming on for Jenkinson and Mavrapanos and there was an instant urgency about the Gunners’ play as soon as the second half started. Two minutes later they were level as Lacazette found Ozil in behind the Palace back-four and he dinked it neatly past Guaita for 1-1.
It was the seventh time in Lacazette’s last 10 appearances in all competitions that he had been involved in a goal, either scoring or assisting and after that it was all Arsenal. They looked a completely different side to the first half (well, they were technically an 18% different side with those two half-time changes).
But the lead lasted about 10 minutes as Palace went in front again, completely against the run of play. Benteke’s flick on was badly misjudged by Mustafi and Zaha capitalised to roll the ball under Leno and shock the Emirates into silence (well, even more silence).
Emery rolled the dice with a final sub as Lucas Torreira was introduced for Elneny but it had the opposite effect as James McArthur nodded in off Dann’s knock-down from a Milivojevic corner to make it 3-1 and send those Palace fans in the away end into absolute dreamland.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pulled a goal back with 13 minutes left to set up a nervy last period for pretty much everyone involved. But it wasn’t enough and Palace ran out 3-2 winners, aided massively by two big Guaita saves to stop Iwobi and Aubameyang equalising right at the death.
The result meant Arsenal missed a chance to climb above Spurs into third and create a gap between themselves in fourth and Chelsea and United below them, while Palace are now mathematically safe from relegation for another season.