5 talking points as Arsenal leave it late vs Palace to keep Europe hopes alive
Arsenal scored two injury time goals as they kept their European hopes alive with a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Mikel Arteta’s side knew that only a win would see their slight hopes of securing European football head to the final day.
Despite that, the Gunners were flat in front of a boisterous home crowd and although they dominated possession, that failed to translate into any early chances.
But with ten minutes of the first-half remaining, a Kieran Tierney cross found Nicolas Pepe who expertly volleyed in an opener.
Arsenal looked comfortable after the break, but backed by their returning fans, Palace found a way back into the game through a powerful Christian Benteke header.
And it looked as if that would be that, until Martinelli bundled home a goal, before Pepe netted his second with the last kick of the game.
Results elsewhere mean that Arsenal could theoretically secure a place in the top seven, should they once again go there way on the final day.
Here are five talking points from Selhurst Park:
1. Hodgson honoured
The Arsenal clash marked Roy Hodgson’s 1212th game as a manager – and after this week’s announcement, very likely, his final match in front of his own supporters.
Hodgson’s final 90 minutes will come against Liverpool on Sunday, where it is hoped he will be given a glorious reception, despite his difficult time at Anfield.
After a campaign that had left fans divided, with the knowledge that this was final home hurrah, it allowed the terraces to truly show their appreciation.
Whoever replaces him in the Selhurst Park faces a tall order. Despite a below-par final season in charge, the 73-year-old has established the Eagles as a Premier League regular again.
A gentleman of not only the English game, but the game across the continent, his impact will likely be felt for years to come.
2. VAR’s big problem returns
If any one incident summed up why so many fans have an issue with VAR, it would be Jeffrey Schlupp’s ugly looking lunge on Calum Chambers in the opening exchanges.
Stretching for the ball, the Palace man clearly made contact with Chambers’ shin with a tackle that could have had more severe ramifications.
Once it had gone to officials at Stockley Park, it looked extremely likely that the on-field decision of yellow would be upgraded to a red.
However, Anthony Taylor’s initial call was upheld leaving Arsenal fans on social media apoplectic.
Peter Walton in the BT Sport studio suggested it could have been an ‘orange card’, as if to amplify why the technology is still leaving players, managers and supporters in the dark.
3. A moment of true quality
In an opening 45 that was bereft of it, Pepe’s goal was a glimpse of the quality Arteta’s side are capable of.
There was a wonderful interchange between Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney, before the latter lofted in a perfectly weighted cross.
There was plenty to do for Pepe, but his calm and composed finish was exactly what was required.
That’s 14 goals for the Gunners’ record signing and in his second season in English football he has started to show why he was so highly rated during his time at Lille.
In that one passage of play, Arteta’s plan was crystal clear. The challenge is now to show it more often.
4. Benteke back to his best
A few short months ago, it appeared that the Belgian’s best days were well and truly behind him.
His thunderous header was his fourh goal in the month of the May and his 10th Premier League strike of the season.
Benteke’s goal came one day after Roberto Martinez confirmed he would be part of his squad for Euro 2020.
And on this evidence, he still has plenty to offer as his physical style didn’t allow Arsena;s defenders a moment of peace.
Mohamed Elneny was far too weak in falling to the ground before his equaliser, but when the chance presented itself Benteke never looked like missing.
He’s stil a very effective striker on his day.
5. Auba's struggles go on
And while the story for Palace was a striker rediscovering their most destructive form, for Arsenal, it was the complete opposite.
Started as a central striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was given the responsibility of leading the line.
But as he had for much of the season, he looked flat and frustrated.
There may still be lasting effects from his malaria diagnosis, but he looks half the player that earned that bumper new contract at the start of this season.
Few would have guessed that the new deal would have backfired so quickly, but there now must be a growing feeling it was a calculated mistake.
Fans will be hoping that a traditional pre-season allows him to come back firing in 2021/22.
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