Arsenal ready for life after Alexis Sanchez following win over Palace
LONDON -- Three quick thoughts from the Emirates as Arsenal beat Crystal Palace 4-1 in the Premier League on Saturday.
1. Arsenal show they can live without Sanchez
The post-Alexis Sanchez era couldn't have started much better at the Emirates. Arsenal delivered their best attacking performance of the season by tearing apart Crystal Palace on Saturday, storming out of the gates with four goals in the opening 22 minutes to send a strong message that they can cope just fine without the Chilean star.
Sanchez was left out of the Gunners squad as his move to Manchester United nears completion, meaning the forward has almost certainly played his final game in an Arsenal shirt. That drawn-out transfer saga has dominated the pregame talk all week, but on the pitch it seemed the remaining Arsenal players were determined to prove they are ready to move on.
Left-back Nacho Monreal scored one goal and set up two more in the opening 13 minutes, with striker Alexandre Lacazette breaking his scoring drought with a well-taken strike to make it 4-0 in the 22nd.
The only negative for Arsenal was Monreal having to come off after just 35 minutes, having just made his return from an injury. By then, though, the Spaniard had already decided the game for the Gunners.
Monreal first shook off his marker to meet Granit Xhaka's corner at the far post with a close-range header to open the scoring in the sixth minute, then picked out Alex Iwobi with a low cross for Arsenal's second four minutes later. And he was again picked out at the far post by a Xhaka corner shortly after, this time electing to square the ball for fellow defender Laurent Koscielny, who pushed it home from a yard out.
It was a 13-minute spell that had the home crowd forgetting all about Sanchez in a hurry, though it must be said all three goals came after uncharacteristically poor defending from Crystal Palace, whose manager Roy Hodgson will be deeply disappointed with their lack of concentration.
For Arsenal, though, the shackles were well and truly off, and Mesut Ozil set up Lacazette's goal with an almost playful back-heel pass. It was Lacazette's first goal in 10 games and will probably have a bigger impact on the France striker's confidence than on the game itself, which had already been decided. If Arsenal are to make a push to return to the top four, it will be up to Lacazette to pick up some of the scoring slack left behind by Sanchez -- whether Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang arrive at the club or not.
Luka Milivojevic pulled one back for the visitors in the 77th minute, but a comeback was never on the cards. Sanchez isn't coming back either, but perhaps that doesn't matter after all.
2. Wilshere backs up captaincy talk
In terms of chances created and clever attacking combinations, this was one of Jack Wilshere's quieter games since his return to Wenger's first-choice lineup. But his impact on the Gunners' midfield shouldn't be underestimated when it comes to providing a sense of much-needed leadership on the pitch.
Wenger talked up Wilshere as a possible future Arsenal captain ahead of this match, and he already seems to be doing his best to play the part.
Unlike many of his teammates, Wilshere is a natural communicator and spent much of his time without the ball directing the players around him. At 0-0, he was telling Ozil to press Palace's defenders higher up the pitch. At 3-0, when Palace had made a rare foray toward Arsenal's goal, he was gesturing for Petr Cech to hold on to the ball and calm things down, making sure the visitors weren't able to wrest back any momentum. And when Xhaka got into a minor scrap with Milivojevic just before the break, Wilshere was first on hand to get in between the two and calm things down.
Wilshere's quick feet and passing ability have been sorely missed during his lengthy injury layoffs and last season's loan spell at Bournemouth. But if he remains fit, his biggest contribution may be his role as a talismanic figure the fans can rally universally behind. With Sanchez heading out the door and Ozil's long-term status still unclear, Wilshere is Arsenal's closest thing to a Steven Gerrard or John Terry -- someone who bleeds for the club and is one of their best players to boot.
At this stage, there seems to be little doubt that Wilshere will extend his Arsenal contract, and Wenger on Thursday called on him to be "one of the leaders of the future."
It seems like the future is already here.
3. Palace self-destruct defensively
Something about Arsenal seems to bring out the worst in this Crystal Palace side. This was Palace's second loss to Wenger's team in quick succession after a 3-2 home defeat on Dec. 28, their only two losses in their past 13 Premier League matches.
And just as in the game at Selhurst Park, the defensive solidity that Hodgson has instilled in his men since taking over seemed to have been completely forgotten.
They could perhaps be forgiven for losing track of Monreal on Arsenal's first goal -- he's not the most obvious threat -- but certainly not for letting him run free in identical fashion on another corner for the third goal. Iwobi, meanwhile, had three black shirts around him when Monreal picked him out, and he was still allowed to slot home without much of a challenge. That's the kind of defending the Emirates crowd is used to watching, although it's usually the home side that's guilty of the errors.
Hodgson has worked wonders with Palace since taking over a team mired at the bottom of the table, but this was a reminder that there is still plenty of work to be done.
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.