Arsenal 1 Crystal Palace 0
French defender Gilles Grimandi scored a spectacular winner as an almost
unrecognisable Arsenal side finally broke their deadlock with Crystal Palace.
It was Grimandi's first goal for the club and moves the Gunners into second
place in the Premiership.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger had to field a team lacking at least nine first
choices after Dutch striker Dennis Bergkamp went down with flu and completed a
daunting list of unavailable players.
Wenger, also without England stars Tony Adams, Ian Wright, David Seaman and
another Dutch international Marc Overmars - to name but a few - had to give
18-year-old local lad Paolo Vernazza his Premiership debut while another
teenager Matthew Upson made only his second league start.
But Palace, who held the Gunners to a goalless draw in the FA Cup last
Saturday, a repeat of the scoreline at Selhurst Park earlier in the season, were
fairly comfortably seen off by a highly committed, enterprising performance from
their makeshift hosts.
Grimandi, a tower of strength in central defence despite having to pass a late
fitness test and avoid joining Wenger's list of crocks, grabbed the decider four
minutes after the break.
It came from a corner by Vernazza, a North London lad with Italian parents,
who had a Premiership debut to remember.
His flag-kick was headed out by Palace's Icelandic centre-back Hermann
Hreidarsson but the ball fell to Grimandi who hooked it back into the top corner
with a sweeping effort from a narrow angle.
Arsenal could have had many more goals as their inexperienced forwards had
Palace constantly back-peddling.
Former England skipper David Platt, taking Bergkamp's free role in attack,
missed two good chances and Portuguese winger Luis Boa Morte got the ball stuck
between his feet with an empty goal beckoning six yards away.
Once Arsenal were in front there was never much danger of a Palace side, built
to defend, making any reprisals. Austrian reserve goalkeeper Alex Manninger had
only one difficult save to make, launching himself to tip over a fierce drive
from Simon Rodger 15 minutes from the end.
Arsenal could have been in front before half-time when Upson headed against
the inside of a post from Vernazza's corner and again when Palace keeper Kevin
Miller kept out Nicolas Anelka's power-drive with his legs.
The stalwart figures of Martin Keown, back after injury, and stand-in skipper
Lee Dixon, carefully nursed Arsenal's youngsters through the match and apart
from the three points, Wenger's side gained a major psychological edge for next
Wednesday's FA Cup replay at Selhurst Park.
But how referee Jeff Winter managed to collect seven bookings from this gamewill long remain a mystery to the 38,000 fans who watched it.
Arsenal: Manninger, Dixon, Vieira, Platt, Anelka, Keown,
Grimandi, Upson, Boa Morte, Hughes, Vernazza (McGowan 80).
Subs Not Used: Lukic, Rankin, Crowe, Day.
Booked: Platt, Anelka, Dixon.
Goals: Grimandi 49.
Crystal Palace: Miller, Edworthy, Gordon, Roberts,
Dyer (Tuttle 77), Brolin, Rodger, Smith (Bent 67), Ismael,
Subs Not Used: Linighan, Nash, Emblen.
Booked: Dyer, Fullarton, Hreidarsson, Roberts.
Ref: J T Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).