Aaron Ramsey scored a late winner to lead Arsenal past cross-town rivals Crystal Palace 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday. Ramsey scored in the first minute of stoppage time, putting away a rebound after Julian Speroni had denied Mathieu Debuchy from point-blank range. The result meant that the Gunners became the only home team to pull out a win on the Premiership’s opening day.
Ramsey was johnny-on-the-spot, alone at the near post to collect a bouncing ball and slam it home. But the play had been set up moments before when Jason Puncheon was sent off for his second yellow, fouling sub Nacho Monreal. That left Palace a man down and staring at five minutes of added time, and Arsenal proved unstoppable in that situation. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started a freewheeling play, firing in a cross that Laurent Koscielney headed over to Olivier Giroud. Giroud knocked the ball in and down to Debuchy, and with Speroni on the floor after stopping the defender’s shot, he was helpless to keep Ramsey’s follow out.
But it was also hard on manager-less Palace, who parted ways with Tony Pulis just two days prior to the season’s kickoff. In truth, they were fine value for money — if lacking in much endeavor — setting out to frustrate a small and slick-passing Arsenal team, they did just that for almost the entire game.
Arsenal, still missing its German contingent after the World Cup and without Theo Walcott for another two weeks as his recovery from injury continues, looked tight and tepid for large patches of the match. Yet against a Palace side that came into the match in disarray, Arsenal should have been an overwhelming force. Instead, as the match wore on — and as Palace stoutly kept all eleven men behind the ball — Arsenal seemed to revert to their old soporific habits.
Yaya Sanogo continues to be a gangly but rarely threatening presence up top, and it is clear Alexis Sanchez hasn’t had enough time yet to acclimate into his surroundings. Even taking that and the absences into account, Arsenal should have shown a bit more. When Palace seized the lead on their first attempt of the game, the Gunners’ faithful were quite right to groan.
Wojciech Szczesny came out to sweep the ball away, smartly enough. However, he dumbly passed it right to a former teammate, Palace midfielder Marouane Chamakh. Chamakh tried to chip the ball up to Frazier Campbell, and in the ensuing chaos, Koscielny was forced to put the ball out of play. That allowed Puncheon to loft in a corner kick, whereupon Arsenal’s inability to defend set pieces resurfaced. Brede Hangeland, a player who hadn’t scored in over 90 games, skimmed a soft header into the back of the net after he lost Alexis and no one picked him up.
That cued chants of “Who needs a manager?” from the travelling support — and some bitter cat calls from the home fans. The Emirates, which is one of the most expensive places to see a game in England, has become increasingly vocal in their criticism of the team. They were only mollified at the half when Martin Kelly conceded a free kick that Sanchez lofted into the box. Hangeland blew the trap, allowing Koscielny to step forward and head the ball in past Speroni to tie the game up.
The second half saw more possession from Arsenal — and an equal amount of slop. As Palace were pushed back, they stayed organized and compact, foiling Cazorla and Sanchez’s attempts to pick them apart. Cazorla sprayed passed out of bounds, Sanchez wasted several crosses and Arsene Wenger grew ever more exasperated on the touchline. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud and Monreal all were thrown on, but to little immediate effect.
But when Puncheon was sent off with a minute to play after fouling Monreal, the gaps opened right up, and a minute later, the ball was behind Speroni.
No other home team won their opener on Saturday across the Premier League as Manchester United lost 2-1 to Swansea to spoil Louis van Gaal’s debut, while Tottenham skunked West Ham at Upton Park thanks to a late, late show from Eric Dier. QPR fell 1-0 to Hull at Loftus Road while Stoke stunk out the Britannia, losing 1-0 to Aston Villa.
West Bromwich Albion was held to a 2-2 draw by Sunderland at the Hawthorns thanks to a late goal from Seb Larsson. Leicester City got a point in their return to the top flight with a 2-2 draw against Everton.
On Sunday, Liverpool will entertain Southampton while Manchester City begin their title defense on Tyneside against Newcastle. Chelsea will travel to new boys Burnley in the Monday night football fixture.
But on Saturday night, Arsenal are atop the table.