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Arsenal 5-0 Crystal Palace: Gunners’ set-piece prowess clips Eagles wings

Premier League title hopefuls Arsenal breezed past out-of-sorts Crystal Palace on Saturday afternoon, steamrolling to a 5-0 triumph at the Emirates Stadium.

Victory was imperative for the Gunners after back-to-back defeats in the top-flight London derbies towards the end of 2023 threw their title ambitions into doubt.

Mikel Arteta’s side suffered another psychological blow at the start of 2024 as Liverpool eked out a late 2-0 win in north London to dispatch last season’s Premier League runners-up for the FA Cup third round.

That result bookended Arsenal’s worst seven-game stretch under the Spanish manager (W1, D2, L4) and put added emphasis on this all-London fixture.

But despite only finding the net once in their last three outings, Arsenal accumulated 61 shots in that sequence, so it was only a matter of time before they would overcome their scoring woes.

What they failed to achieve in their last Premier League home match against West Ham United, the Gunners did only 11 minutes into today’s game.

Declan Rice whipped in a delightful cross into the box from the corner kick, with Gabriel Magalhaes outjumping Chris Richards on the far post to head home the opening goal.

As the sense of relief overwhelmed Arteta’s charges, the rest of the first half was all Arsenal, even though Palace’s stubborn defensive set-up coped well with the home side’s attacking threat.

However, another set-piece situation towards the end of the first 45 minutes proved too hot to handle for Roy Hodgson’s beleaguered side, resulting in Palace’s complete collapse.

Bukayo Saka took over corner duties in the 37th minute. He sent a teasing cross across the face of goal, only for Dean Henderson’s poor reaction to marshall the ball in the back of the net.

Despite Henderson’s faint foul claim, VAR upheld referee Paul Tierney’s call as Arsenal headed into half-time 2-0 up.

With just one win from their last nine Premier League assignments (D3, L5), Palace had to abandon their defensive approach at the start of the second half.

It didn’t take long before Hodgson’s effort to whittle down a two-goal deficit backfired on the bottom-half underachievers.

Arsenal orchestrated a lightning-fast counter-attack following Palace’s poorly-crafted corner. Gabriel Jesus teed up Leandro Trossard, who had a field day in a one-on-one with Henderson in the 59th minute.

The visitors tried to respond through Eberechi Eze, but his thunderous long-range attempt forced David Raya’s fingertip save, which resulted in another corner.

As the game progressed, Palace fell apart, allowing the Gunners to assume cruising control of proceedings, which led to an emphatic ending to this one-sided affair in north London.

Second-half substitute Gabriel Martinelli made it 4-0 in the 94th minute.

Eddie Nketiah dispatched the Brazilian winger in space. After receiving the ball in his stride, the 22-year-old displayed calmness and composure to beat Henderson to the far-bottom corner with a routine finish.

Hodgson might have had a sense of deja vu only a minute later. Palace barely moved the ball as Jorginho intercepted Henderson’s clearance at the halfway line.

The Italian midfielder lifted the ball over the top for Martinelli, who used his freshness and quick feet to go behind Richards’ back and produce a carbon-copy of his finish a moment earlier.

Martinelli’s stoppage-time brace sealed Arsenal’s overwhelming victory that will keep the Gunners within a two-point distance of pacesetters Liverpool, at least until the Reds’ trip to Bournemouth tomorrow.

On the other hand, another disastrous Palace performance could prove the end of the road for Hodgson, whose men are now at risk of being sucked back into a dreaded relegation scrap.

With only five points separating them from 18th-placed Luton Town, the Eagles must stem the bleeding, and the veteran manager could pay the price.

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