Football Features

Jean-Philippe Mateta sets the tone as energetic Eagles breeze past Champions League chasing Gunners

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 22:37, 4 April 2022

Arsenal saw their pursuit to reach next season’s Champions League group phase hit a stumbling block at Selhurst Park this evening when they fell to a humbling 3-0 loss to Crystal Palace.

Mikel Arteta’s men, who came into tonight’s London derby enjoying an impressive run of form away from home, were stunned when Jean-Philippe Mateta and Jordan Ayew struck moments after each other inside the opening 25 minutes. The architect of both goals came from an unusual place with Danish centre-back Joachim Andersen assisting his second and third goals in England’s top division this season. Wilfred Zaha would complete the rout — and hand the Gunners their second loss in three games — in the closing stages.

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Andersen firstly knocked Conor Gallagher’s free kick into the path of Mateta, who nodded past Aaron Ramsdale to put Palace in front, he’s now scored three goals in his last five Premier League appearances for Crystal Palace, one more than he managed in his previous 17 for the Eagles, minutes later Andersen channelled his inner Kevin De Bruyne when he picked out Ayew with an incisive pass. Kieran Tierney, the Gunners first choice left-back, was ruled out before kick-off due to a knee injury. Nuno Tavares filled in for the flying Scotsman and he should have done a better job cutting out Andersen’s through ball.

“As a young player you’re taught to think that the player next to you is a dummy or a poor player. Tavares stops because he thinks Gabriel is going to cut it out but Ayew keeps running,” Jamie Carragher said on Monday Night Football. On the backfoot — Arsenal haven’t come back from a two-goal deficit at half-time to win in the Premier League in 14 years — Arteta replaced the much-maligned Tavares at the interval with Gabriel Martinelli meaning Granit Xhaka moved to left-back.

It proved fruitless as just before the hour mark Crystal Palace registered their fourth shot on target in this match which is higher than their season average of 3.6 in the league. Taking off the other starting full-back for another forward — Eddie Nketiah replacing Cedric — the 13-time English champions subsequently dominated possession but the game was perfectly set up for the Palace counter, Zaha in particular completing four successful dribbles, more than any player on the field. The former Manchester United winger, running from deep, earned a penalty kick late on which he duly converted. His tenth effort in the Premier League making him the club’s leading scorer this season.

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Incredibly, only Raheem Sterling (23) and Jamie Vardy (21) have won more penalties in Premier League history than Zaha (18), his progression forward was made easy with Arsenal’s influential Ghanian midfielder Thomas Partey going down injured. It was against Tottenham last season when he walked off the pitch in the build-up to a goal scored by Harry Kane. Arteta back then said the player “didn’t understand the gravity of the situation”.

A damaging result, ending Arsenal’s five-game unbeaten run away from home, and the fifth such occassion they’ve lost a London derby by a 3+ goal margin. It leaves Arteta’s side in fifth still level on points with neighbours Tottenham albeit with a game in hand. As for the South Londoners this was undoubtedly their best performance under legendary Gunners skipper Patrick Vieira; this — Palace’s second-ever home win over Arsenal (the last also being a 3-0 success in 2017) — propelled them into ninth place, only once before have they finished a campaign in the top half (10th – 2014/15).

Vieira incidentally becomes the second individual to have played for Arsenal in the Premier League and beaten them as an opposition manager. He follows in former Leeds boss David O’Leary’s footsteps. Although it was Zaha who ran Arsenal ragged, Vieira was quick to point out the contribution of tone-setter Mateta. “The energy Jean-Philippe Mateta brings to the team allows others behind him to do the same. It forces players behind to follow. He is a massive player. A lot of people will talk about the goal he scored but the passion and work-rate he shows every day is a huge plus for the team,” he told Sky Sports.

It’s been five years since the Gunners last played Champions League football and that drought has a good chance of coming to an end but a performance like this can never happen again especially with games against top-four rivals Chelsea, Man Utd, West Ham and Spurs coming down the pike.

“From the beginning we were not at the races. When you come here you have to compete. you have to win duels and second balls and be aggressive and we were none of those and top of that we were really poor on the ball,” Arteta said after the game.

“We tried in the second half, we had three or four big chances but the only half chance they had they got a penalty.

“It is time to accept the criticism, put your hand up and apologise because this performance was not good enough for this club and then react. When everything goes well everyone wants to be there and be supportive.

“Congratulations to Palace because they deserved to win the game. They always play like this. We are humble enough to accept the criticism. You don’t feel sorry for yourself because we lost players and a football match.”