After the fantastic win at the Emirates on Easter Sunday, what did we learn from beating Europa League semin finalists Arsenal?
1. Palace have now added their first triumph at Arsenal since 1994 to away wins against Manchester City, Wolves, Leicester, Newcastle and Burnley, as well as a first Premier League point at Old Trafford. This season might have been deemed more of a success had the Eagles’ managed to muster up some better performances at home, but that shouldn’t detract from just how well Roy Hodgson’s men have played away from Selhurst Park. Palace now have the sixth best away record in the Premier League, above the likes of Arsenal, Everton Leicester and Wolves. If they can maintain a similar level next season – while finding a way past teams at Selhurst Park – then they should be well-placed to build on what has proved to be a solid campaign.
2. In terms of shape, discipline and executing a game plan, this was right up there with Palace’s performance at the Etihad. Arsenal have had some well-chronicled struggles away from the Emirates but came into this game looking to win an 11th straight home game for the first time in their history. Roy Hodgson was brave with his team selection, opting to pick Joel Ward at left back ahead of the out of form Patrick van Aanholt, while keeping faith in Christian Benteke despite his obvious goal drought. The former England manager’s courage was rewarded on both fronts. Despite having somewhat of a makeshift back four, Palace defended well from the front and invited the Gunners to attack down the Eagles’ right-hand side, where more often than not Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s web of legs was waiting to meet them. Despite Arsenal’s overwhelming share of possession, it was Palace who made better use of the ball, created the more clear-cut chances, and ended up thoroughly deserving winners.
3. Speaking of Christian Benteke, it’s taken longer than we might have hoped, but the Belgian is starting to remind us all of just how good he can be. It’s difficult to overstate just how much Palace’s other attacking players benefit from having Benteke on the pitch, and one only had to look at the number of times that Wilfried Zaha picked up the ball with space around him against Arsenal to realise the problems posed for defenders when both of them are on the pitch. The quality we saw on Sunday has always been within Benteke, but his career in the past two years has been significantly hampered, and Palace now look set to reap the benefits of not rushing him back into the first team fold. Benteke has threatened new dawns before, but there is a hope that with a goal finally to his name, his confidence on the mend and a full pre-season under his belt, that next season could be when we see the 28-year-old finally return to his best.
4. Zaha’s interview with the Daily Mail towards the end of last week confirmed what many of us have feared for some time, but it’s now down to him to continue to prove that he is ready to make that step up to the next level. If Sunday’s game at the Emirates was Wilf’s first audition, then he passed the test with flying colours. Hodgson was quick to dismiss any suggestion that Zaha could be about to leave the club this summer, but if this is indeed the final act of the 26-year-old’s memorable Palace career, we should lap up each of these last three games in which we have the opportunity to watch him play, and show our appreciation for a man who has been the Eagles’ greatest player of the modern era.
5. Palace are now 11 points clear of the relegation zone and sit just seven points off seventh, meaning we now find ourselves in the unfamiliar position of being able to enjoy the final three games of the season. Whatever you might think of Hodgson and some of the football that Palace have played this campaign, it’s impossible to deny that his mission has been accomplished. There might have been aspirations for a top half finish and maybe even a push for a Europa League place, but there are a number of teams around us with similar targets and a bigger budget to spend. The fact that we have been able to go toe-to-toe with the best teams in this division and still remain somewhat disappointed is testament to just how far we have come under Hodgson.