Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace: Bukayo Saka at the double as rampant Gunners move eight points clear in title race
Arsenal will head into the March international break boasting a commanding eight-point lead at the Premier League summit after brushing aside Crystal Palace 4-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Bukayo Saka scored a stylish brace and Gabriel Martinelli and Granit Xhaka were also on target as the Gunners eased to a sixth straight top-flight victory in another London derby to quickly bounce back from their shock Europa League last-16 exit at the hands of Sporting Lisbon and take another key step towards a first title since 2004.
Rivals Manchester City were on FA Cup duty this weekend, reaching a Wembley semi-final with a 6-0 demolition of Championship leaders Burnley, but now have yet more ground to make up in the title race when they return to action in April.
Managerless Palace, under the stewardship of caretaker and Under-21 coach Paddy McCarthy after sacking Arsenal icon Patrick Vieira on Friday, showed early signs of perhaps being able to finally end a dismal 12-game winless run across all competitions that has seen them fail to achieve a single victory in 2023 and fall to just three points above the relegation zone.
However, Wilfried Zaha could only rattle the post after an incisive counter-attack and a fortunate deflection from Arsenal’s perspective bounced wide off the back of goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
Ramsdale denied Odsonne Edouard one-on-one before the offside flag was raised, while Arsenal tested young Palace ‘keeper Joe Whitworth on only his second League start in the absences of Vicente Guaita and Sam Johnstone as captain Martin Odegaard was denied.
The deadlock was broken shortly before the half-hour mark, with Ben White and Saka combining to great effect and Martinelli taking down the latter’s cross and leaving Joel Ward in his wake before arrowing into the bottom corner.
A 13th League goal of the season was just the tonic for Martinelli after his decisive penalty miss against Sporting in the second-leg shootout on Thursday.
Arsenal took full control from there, doubling their lead just before the break when Saka linked up fantastically with White - a surprise omission from this week’s latest England squad - again before coolly sweeping past a helpless Whitworth.
They stretched that advantage to 3-0 10 minutes after half-time as Xhaka was played in by Leandro Trossard to finish off another gorgeously flowing Arsenal attacking move.
Palace staged a brief fightback when Jeffrey Schlupp bundled home from close range after a Michael Olise corner and could have made it 3-2 as Zaha dragged a low shot agonisingly wide of the far post after being teed up by Schlupp.
That miss was compounded shortly afterwards when Saka received substitute Kieran Tierney’s perfect pass and rattled an unstoppable first-time strike into the back of the net for 4-1.