A stunning goal from Yannick Bolasie in the 81st minute earned Crystal Palace a 1-1 draw in their Premiership encounter at Arsenal
In a season in which Chelsea have imploded, Manchester City have been erratic, Manchester United have laboured and Liverpool have been in transition, Arsenal remain determined to finish in fourth. This was a microcosm of the clubs perennial frustrations a game that they largely controlled and would reasonably have expected to win but found a way to squander.
Arsne Wenger had called for a flawless final six matches from his Arsenal players in an attempt to keep alive their slim Premier League title hopes but, after last Saturdays skittish 3-3 draw at West Ham United, they once again fell short. The dream is over and the weeks ahead will feature anxious looks over shoulders, as much as anything else, as they seek to keep fifth-placed Manchester United at bay.
Looking up, rather than down, Arsenal would love to reel in Tottenham Hotspur and a third-placed finish would be rather better than fourth, given that the latter comes with the requirement to pre-qualify for the Champions League. But there is the unmistakable sense of anti-climax.
Alexis Snchez brought urgency and he put Arsenal in front in first-half injurytime with his 14th goal of the club season. The home team hogged possession and Mesut zil was typically eye-catching but they did not create enough clear-cut chances, with Wenger lamenting the lack of accuracy in their final ball. He also noted how freedom and a change of pace was missing.
Crystal Palace made them pay. Alan Pardews team created little in the final third but all three of his attack-minded substitutions made contributions and, eventually, the visitors made something happen. Bakary Sako, who came on at half-time, worked Petr Cech from a Yohan Cabaye corner in the 76th minute and the equaliser came shortly afterwards.
Emmanuel Adebayor, another substitute and one who, predictably, was booed by the fans of his former club, got away up the left before he rolled the ball back to Yannick Bolasie. The forward drifted inside, waiting for the right moment and he shot low and sweetly for the near corner. Cech ought to have done better. The goalkeeper was slow to get down and across and, although he got his hands to the ball, he could not keep it out.
It was not the way that Cech had wanted to mark his return to the team and it was Palace who might have nicked it. They boast impressive pace and power on the counterattack and the final substitute, Wilfried Zaha, robbed a dawdling Laurent Koscielny but he could not release Adebayor in the middle.
Pardew talked afterwards of how visiting teams could exploit that last period of the game if they were still in it, because of how Arsenal always push their full-backs high and wide. They over-commit, at times, the Palace manager said. It gives you an opportunity.
Palace took theirs and Pardew could be pleased with the lift the goal gave to Bolasie. He was also relieved that the key defender, Scott Dann, who was hurt in a challenge with Gabriel Paulista, escaped injury.
Palace have their eyes on the FA Cup semi-final against Watford at Wembley next Sunday and, particularly after this point, it is difficult to see them getting sucked into the relegation dogfight. They have won one and drawn three of their past four league matches.
Arsenal were on the front foot for most of the game and, at the end an underwhelming first half, they went ahead, when Danny Welbeck expertly picked out Snchez with a ball over the top. The Chilean got there before Wayne Hennessey to score with a looping header. The move had started when Dann played Mile Jedinak into trouble and he was robbed by Welbeck.
Snchez had laid on the clearest chance of the game previously, when he sent zil through on 43 minutes but, under pressure, the playmaker could not work his shot past Hennessey, who blocked.
Pardew had started with two up front but he would shuffle his pack. Sako replaced Jedinak and the formation went to 4-1-4-1, with Bolasie moved to the right and Jason Puncheon deployed off the striker. Pardew went on to swap Adebayor for Connor Wickham and, finally, Zaha for Puncheon and his team, belatedly, came to threaten.
Arsenal had a number of half-chances when the score stood at 1-0 and it was Sanchez who went the closest, flicking a header from zils cross past the far post. It was Palace, though, who finished the stronger.
Man of the match Alexis Snchez (Arsenal)
Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/apr/17/arsenal-crystal-palace-premier-league-match-report