Late Arsenal heroics keep European hopes alive at Crystal Palace


Arsenal kept their European hopes alive and ensured Roy Hodgson’s last home game in charge of Crystal Palace ended in defeat after notching two crucial late goals.

Arsenal were hoping to finish their season with a flourish and avoid the ignominy of entering next season without European competition. Crystal Palace, meanwhile, were seeking to make Roy Hodgson’s final home game in charge of the Eagles a memorable one after the veteran manager recently confirmed he will step aside this summer.

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The Gunners started the brighter of the two, but it was the home side who crafted the first scoring opportunity of the game.

Gary Cahill rose highest to meet a corner, but the former England man’s downward header flew agonisingly wide with Bernd Leno left scrambling.

Defending set pieces was proving an issue for Arsenal, with James Tomkins next to try his luck. The 32-year-old did well to generate power on his header while both he and the ball swung away from goal, but Leno was equal to the task with a fine diving stop.

The in-form Christian Benteke was next to test Arsenal’s creaking backline. but succeeded only in thundering his header over the crossbar following a teasing delivery from Andros Townsend.

Jeffrey Schlupp forced Leno to conceded another corner after a bouncing half-volley arrowed towards the corner. With Selhurst Park in full voice, Palace were firmly on top against their London rivals.

Almost inevitably, Arsenal opened the scoring moments later when a swift counterattack resulted in Nicolas Pepe putting his side in front with a controlled finish.

Neat interplay between Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka crafted a crossing opportunity for the Scotland international. His cross was accurate in finding Pepe, who showed great technique to guide the hip-high ball home with his weaker right foot on the volley.

Emile Smith Rowe began to find his feet after the break, frequently taking up dangerous positions between Palace’s midfield and defence that left them unsure whether to press or drop.

Palace’s own playmaker, Wilfried Zaha, then single-handedly got the home crowd on their feet with a pair of mazy runs.

They were to be rewarded moments later when Benteke hauled his side back on level terms with his fourth goal in four games.

Another dangerous set piece delivery from Townsend picked out the Belgian centre-forward who powered an equaliser past Leno. Townsend began his celebration early, raising his arms into the air before Benteke had made contact indicating just how much confidence the Eagles’ squad currently have in the red-hot frontman.

Benteke almost bagged a brace soon after when Rob Holding got caught under another superb delivery, but Leno was on hand to smother the striker’s close-range effort.

Arsenal’s confidence appeared to have shattered, and but for a crucial block, Zaha could’ve made it 2-1 after driving at Holding and Calum Chambers.

Benteke’s evening ended early after suffering a knock. His late-season heroics did not go without recognition as Selhurst park greeted his substitution with a standing ovation.

His opposite number, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had endured a quiet evening for much of the contest until the 93rd minute.

A fantastic cross between defence and goalkeeper from Chambers deserved to be tucked home, but Aubemayang could only prod the ball wide to visible frustration.

With time quickly running out, Arsenal snatched all three points when Gabriel Martinelli reacted quicker than Joel Ward to latch on to Martin Odegaard’s cross and prod home.

Pepe then bagged his second to ensure Hodgson’s final home game at Selhurst Park ended in defeat.