Another microcosm of Arsenal’s season with unpredictability to the fore.
Injury time depression turned to hope and elation four minutes later.
At the start, the questions were: How much would the 10,000 strong crowd influence the outcome, along with this being Roy Hodgson’s last home game and eleven players out of contract in May?
Could Palace wreck Arsenal’s European hopes, like a couple of seasons ago?
The last three meetings have been draws and Palace are unbeaten in five against Arsenal.
The home team invited Arsenal on and tried to counter quickly with their experienced front three Zaha, Townsend and Benteke.
Arsenal had some joy with some early attacks on the right involving Smith Rowe and Chambers.
Schlupp went in heavy on Chambers’ ankle – but got away with a yellow card. And Ward got away with a late kick on Tierney on the byline of the Palace area. The VAR ref was liberal this evening.
The home team couldn’t keep crosses from coming in, but they were all cut out in the area by Palace defenders, Cahill, and Tomkins in particular.
At the other end, a deep cross saw Benteke head over when he should have hit the target.
But Arsenal’s slick attacking moves paid off as Saka backheeled to Tierney finding space and whose cross found Pepe running in and keeping his right foot shot low and past Guaita.
Benteke got away with another possible Palace red card incident when his elbow hit Elneny’s chin.
And as the fates would have it, leading to a ‘salt in the wound’ moment. A disappointing Partey clattered into Zaha. Townsend sent in a curling cross, Benteke wrestled away from Elneny, pushing him to the ground and diving for a header past Leno. Again, a liberal interpretation of VAR went against Arsenal.
Combined with conceding it seemed like the substitution, Odergaard for Saka on 65, and a slight change of shape disrupted Arsenal. Brittleness surfaced. The goal disorientated them – a familiar pattern this season, particularly in the latter Europa League ties.
Palace threatened with Ayew’s close range header well saved by Leno.
Arsenal tried to reply and a fit, on form Aubameyang would have knocked Chambers’ cross to the far post in – but he sent it wide.
In injury time, the fog of depression was a about to descend, but you can never discount Arsenal’s unpredictability, and latent brilliance. Odergaard sent in a looping cross to the far post and Martinelli anticipating, chested it down and tapped it in.
Three minutes later, Chambers sent a long throw down the line, controlled by Pepe who drove inside the Palace area beating two players and firing a left foot shot into the corner of the net.
Gabriel Martinelli said: “It was an important victory – we needed it. I am always ready. When Mikel needs me, I’ll be there.”
Roy Hodgson said: “Our second half performance deserved a draw.”
Mikel Arteta said: “It is difficult territory. They were a threat. They win second balls and corners. After our changes they were more of a threat. Gabi got a good goal. It is a tough place to come and win. They are a physical team and a big threat.
“The young players have worked hard and deserved their opportunity. You have to take it [fighting for a European place] with all the difficulties we’ve had.
“We will keep fighting right up to the last day. If someone said in November or December [they could qualify for Europe] it looked impossible, but we’ve been on a strong run these past six months and we deserve a chance to be there on the final day.”
Crystal Palace: 31Guaita, 2Ward, 5Tomkins, 24Cahill, 27Mitchell, 8Kouyaté, 22McCarthy (Substituted for Riedewald at 82’minutes, 15Schlupp (Booked at 5mins), 10Townsend, 20Benteke (Booked at 37mins, Substituted for J Ayew at 79’minutes), 11Zaha
Arsenal: 1Leno, 21Chambers, 16Holding, 6Gabriel, 3Tierney (Substituted for Xhaka at 78’minutes), 18Partey (Substituted for Martinelli at 78’minutes), 25Elneny (Booked at 37mins), 19Pépé, 32Smith Rowe 7Saka (Substituted for Ødegaard at 65’minutes), 14Aubameyang