17 August 2014

Arse 2-1 Palace: exactly the Solomonic result we needed.

Well, that was tetchier than it had to be. Once Crystal Palace went ahead on the 35th minute, I was starting to regret how much I had celebrated Man U's own loss at home. Karma, it seemed, was going to ensure that I keep the schadenfreude to a minimum, courtesy of a nifty header from Brede Hangeland, at least until all results were in. Thankfully, it was through an even-niftier header from Koscielny and some opportunistic poaching from Ramsey—each of them in stoppage-time—that we come away with a near-perfect blend of result and reminder.

When I learned that Pulis and Palace had parted ways by, erm, "mutual consent" on Thursday, I started to fret. Gone was the strutting. This was the kind of news that might leave a squad gutted or galvanized. Pulis might have fired this squad from relegation to mid-table security, but how would the players react to his departure?

Early on, it looked as if the Eagles would rally under interim manager Keith Millen, and their early industriousness paid off when Hangeland managed to push away from Alexis on a corner in order to score a glancing header. Set-pieces, once again, looked to be our undoing, perhaps all the more so without Giroud or Mertesacker in the mix to offer some height. Revenge wasn't long in coming, though; in first-half stoppage time, it was Koscielny who gave Hangeland the slip on a set-piece sent in by Alexis. His header was an epic bit, as he squared up with his back to the goal and headed in, seeming almost to flick it off the back of his own head. Fantastic stuff, that.

Aside from that moment, though, it was a bit dreary. We only managed three shots on target despite commanding 76% possession, and if not for a late second yellow on Jason Puncheon, we might have come way with just the one point. However, Puncheon's late challenge on Monreal in the 89th minute was enough to see him off. Though it may have been a bit harsh, such are the risks of playing a physical, rugged style. Pulis might be gone, but Palace were still playing out his game-plan, a blend of defending deep and tackling hard, among other features. For it to bite them the arse is, in its own way, a bit of karma.

Speaking of karma, a bit of debt was paid down in the closing minutes as none other than Aaron Ramsey found the winner. No, Palace are not Stoke, but there was an added touch to it all the same. Ramsey's goal, which came about thirty seconds into extra time, did just a bit more than earn us three points. It served notice that the Welshman is ready to remind us all of what he's capable of now that he's fit and in-form. He's picked up right where he left off from last season.

And yet.

Yes, we did scrape three points from a scrappy squad that hopes to solidify its 11th-place finish, managerial mayhem be damned. However, there was enough in it to remind Arsène that we're not quite ready—yet. For as much as we may revel in Man U's misery, there's a silver lining of sorts that we need only look back to last August to recall: lose early, sign big. Man U's early-season loss may inspire Van Gaal to strengthen his squad in ways he might not have pondered previously. Then again, he's lost a precious three points to an opponent that, by rights, his squad should have defeated.

With that in mind, we can look at our own result and realize that we've split the difference. We've kept three points, yes, but we did so in a manner that should remind those in charge (cough, cough Arsène) that we do still need a few more reinforcements. Yes, Debuchy, Chambers, and Alexis tantalized, but we're still one significant signing away from all-out contention for the Prem title. Even if we remind ourselves that we went in without Mertesacker or Özil, we can't really call this the kind of convincing result we might have expected, not after the signings that we've already made and the signings that Palace haven't made.

Yes, I know we look forward to a season in which Ramsey, Ox, and others don't succumb to injury while Özil improves in his second Prem season and Alexis delivers on his promise and his price-tag, but Saturday's result leaves a nagging feeling somewhere in the back of our minds (including, I hope,  Arsène's) that we may not quite be "there" yet. There are still two weeks to address that nagging feeling, with the transfer-window closing at 11PM London time on 1 September, and, in the interim, Arsenal will travel to Goodison Park, face Beşiktaş in both legs of a Champions League play-off, and travel to King Power Stadium. We may have taken all three points and in dramatic fashion on Saturday, but let's hope that Arsène hasn't put away his pocket-book just yet...

What do you think? Drop down to the comments-section below to weigh in...