Arsenal slipped up in the race for the Premier League top four as they succumbed to a surprise 3-2 defeat to Crystal Palace at Emirates Stadium.
Hunting an 11th straight home league victory, Unai Emery’s side looked to have shrugged off a poor opening 45 minutes when Mesut Ozil cancelled out Christian Benteke’s opener early in the second half.
But Arsenal’s suspect defence came back to haunt them when Shkodran Mustafi and Bernd Leno failed to deal with a hopeful punt from deep – Wilfried Zaha latching on to Christian Benteke’s knockdown to restore Palace’s lead.
Palace added further gloss to a fine performance soon after, James McArthur taking advantage of more slack defending to head in, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s strike a mere consolation.
Despite a bright start from the Gunners in which Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi wasted decent opportunities, the visitors were ahead in the 17th minute.
Having allowed Scott Dann a free header five minutes prior, Arsenal’s defence was found wanting once again when Benteke nodded in unmarked from Luka Milivojevic’s free kick.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka was then fortunate when referee Jonathan Moss deemed that he had not handled Sead Kolasinac’s cross in Palace’s area.
Alex Iwobi was introduced at half-time, and Emery’s decisiveness swiftly paid dividends as the substitute combined with Alexandre Lacazette to play in Ozil, who lifted a cute finish over Vicente Guaita from a tight angle.
Guaita had to be at his best just before the hour, diving to his right to keep out Kolasinac’s stinging effort, but for all Arsenal’s pressure, Palace moved back ahead when Benteke got the better of Mustafi, Zaha making no mistake after beating Leno to his strike partner’s flick-on.
McArthur made matters worse eight minutes later, heading in unchecked from a corner, and though Aubameyang cut the deficit soon after, Arsenal ultimately slipped to their first home league defeat since August.
What does it mean? Top four race wide open
With Manchester United having suffered a humiliating defeat at Everton earlier on Sunday, and Tottenham losing at Manchester City, Arsenal knew a victory would lift them into third.
And though the Gunners remain well in the race for a Champions League finish, they may have blown their best opportunity to get ahead of the pack.
Zaha in bullish form
Zaha has acknowledged that he may have to leave Palace in the off-season as he aims to further his career, but if these final games are to be his swansong for the Eagles, then he is sure to leave on good terms.
The winger was in exceptional form on Sunday and capped off his display with a typically composed goal.
Arsenal’s set-piece struggles exposed
Despite Emery hauling the shaky Konstantinos Mavropanos off at half-time, Arsenal’s defence never got to grips with Palace’s bullish front line, and having conceded from a set-piece for Benteke’s opener, a simple long ball and another corner did the damage for the away side after the interval.
The quick turnarounds continue for Arsenal, who travel to Wolves on Wednesday. Palace are next in action against Everton on Saturday.
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