Football/Soccer

Olivier Giroud wondergoal sees Arsenal past Crystal Palace

 Giroud opened the scoring with a spectacular scorpion kick. Picture by PA
Mark Mann-Bryans

Premier League: Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 0

A sumptuous strike from Olivier Giroud helped Arsenal start the new year with victory over Crystal Palace and move up to third in the Premier League.

The Gunners leapt back ahead of Manchester City and Tottenham courtesy of Giroud's wonderful first-half 'scorpion kick' volley, with Alex Iwobi's second-half header sealing a comfortable 2-0 win over Sam Allardyce's struggling Eagles.

Arsenal face a trip to Bournemouth on Tuesday night, but they began 2017 with the three points they needed to return to the top four, having been temporarily displaced after Tottenham's earlier win at Watford.

Arsene Wenger was unable to call on playmaker Mesut Ozil due to illness, but it made little difference to the outcome as Alexis Sanchez, Lucas Perez and Iwobi all performed admirably behind Giroud.

Giroud missed a simple chance to tuck away Nacho Monreal's cross and the clearance fell to Mohamed Elneny, whose own effort was blocked behind off the head of James Tomkins.

Sanchez, again playing out wide with Giroud in the striker's role, flashed a shot wide of Wayne Hennessey's left-hand post.

The Wales goalkeeper was forced into his first save moments later as he kept out Iwobi's tame effort, but he could do nothing as Giroud opened the scoring.

Palace were on the front-foot only for Perez to break down the move and Giroud to start a counter-attack with a cute flick.

Iwobi then fed Sanchez, who in turn crossed for Giroud, who had burst into the Palace box. The Chilean's ball in was behind the Frenchman, who improvised brilliantly with a back-heeled volley over his head and in off the crossbar.

It bore more than a passing resemblance Henrikh Mkhitaryan's effort for Manchester United six days earlier.

Elneny then fizzed a low shot wide as the Gunners looked to add to their lead, with Palace unable to offer anything of an attacking threat inside the opening half-hour.

 Arsenal's Martinez Lucas Perez Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha (right) battle for possession 

Their first real chance came in the opening moments of the second half, but Christian Benteke could not find the target as he rose at the back-post to meet Andros Townsend's cross.

But it was the hosts who would soon score the game's second goal as Monreal's cross looped up off Scott Dann, with Iwobi heading home despite Joel Ward's best efforts to clear off the line.

The Eagles almost reduced the arrears immediately, but Benteke's bullet header was stopped by Petr Cech, who was also on hand to keep out Yohan Cabaye and Townsend in quick succession.

That proved to be the best that the visitors could muster as a response, although Hennessey did well to stop substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain adding a third in stoppage time.

The loss means Allardyce has taken one point from his first two matches since succeeding Alan Pardew in the Palace hot-seat and continued his wretched run at Arsenal, where he has never tasted victory in the Premier League.

The south Londoners lost 22 games in 2016 and started this year in much the same way to remain 17th in the table and just two points clear of the relegation zone.

After the match Wenger hailed Giroud's effort.

He told Sky Sports 1: "It was a great counter-attack at great speed. The ball was kicked behind him and he had that great reflex, a big surprise. It's a surprise and a fantastic goal.

"I was a bit spoiled over the years by great goals. With the exceptional quality all these players had and everyone you remember for the exceptional quality like the exceptional Giroud goal.

"It's a reflex and I think all of us can score this kind of goal. The strength, the power and the reflex to kick the ball. Groud is very good in front of goal from crosses but I've never seen this kind of goal from him."

Wenger was impressed by the way his side bossed the game and added: "We controlled the game. We had a little difficult patch in the second half but overall I think we controlled the game well.

"I was very pleased with the pace of our game. The speed of our passing, our movement. Our game is based on that and I felt for long periods of the game I felt we had a good mixture between possession and penetration."

And the Frenchman insists that the Gunners need to focus on their own results as they try to close the gap on Chelsea at the top of the Premier League table.

He said: "At the moment Chelsea is in front of everybody but all the others try to hang on, not to give any ground away and at the moment they manage to do that. They win when they are expected to win so that means every surprising result penalises you in a very strong way.

"You have just to focus and try to win the next game and hope at some stage some others will drop points."

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