LONDON: Arsenal will head into the international break eight points clear in the Premier League title race after Bukayo Saka scored twice in a 4-1 home defeat of Crystal Palace on Sunday.
With chasers Manchester City otherwise engaged this weekend in the FA Cup, Arsenal took full advantage with Gabriel Martinelli opening the scoring and Granit Xhaka also on target.
Jeffrey Schlupp got Palace’s first goal in five league games to briefly raise their hopes in the second half but Arsenal were never going to miss the chance to tighten their grip on the top spot as they chase their first English title for 19 years.
Arsenal’s ninth victory in London derbies this season, a new English league record, took them to 69 points from 28 games with reigning champions City on 61 having played a game fewer.
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side bowed out of the Europa League on penalties to Sporting on Thursday but they showed no sign of a hangover from that disappointment and a sixth successive Premier League win looked in the bag by halftime with Martinelli opening the scoring from Saka’s pass in the 28th minute.
Saka doubled the lead in the 43rd when he guided home a low shot beyond Palace’s teenage goalkeeper Joe Whitworth after being played in by Ben White’s pass.
Arsenal were running riot when Xhaka made it 3-0 10 minutes into the second half after an assist by Leandro Trossard.
Schlupp replied just past the hour and there were a few jittery moments with Wilfried Zaha firing inches wide before Saka made sure with his 12th league goal of the season in the 74th, guiding in a first-time shot from Kiernan Tierney’s pass.
Palace stay in 12th place but are only three points above the relegation zone.
With Spring in the air in north London, there was a feeling of euphoria at the final whistle with Arsenal now assured of an eight-point lead going into April as the season pauses briefly for England’s Euro 2024 qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine.
Arteta said he was impressed at how his team bounced back from the midweek Europa League exit.
“Really pleased with the performance, the energy, the determination that we showed again, the way we controlled the game,” Arteta told Sky Sports.
“It was tough after playing 120 minutes in the week, wondering how the team would react but they reacted brilliantly and the crowd was at it again.”
CHELSEA DROP POINTS
Chelsea coach Graham Potter was left to rue poor defending that cost his side two points in a 2-2 draw at home to Everton on Saturday that set back the Blues’ revival from their dramatic slump in form.
Chelsea created a string of chances but failed to convert before the break. They seemed to be on their way to another three points when they went 1-0 in the 52nd minute when on-loan Portugal winger Joao Felix’s shot hit a post and went in.
But Everton equalised 17 minutes later when Abdoulaye Doucoure headed home after a corner that was headed back across the Chelsea box by James Tarkowski.
Then, with Chelsea back in front after a Kai Havertz penalty made it 2-1, Everton substitute Ellis Simms took advantage of space in the 89th minute to hold off Kalidou Kouibaly and blast a shot past Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2023
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