Crystal Palace 1-1 Arsenal

Palace 1 (Aki Riihilanti 65')
Arsenal 1 (Thierry Henry 63')

If you haven't seen the match, you'll have a pretty vivid picture of what this match was like based off the match reports and everything else. Of course, the picture is absolutely wrong, but when has that ever stopped the English sporting press before? I'll get into that for a second, but first, here were the lineups.

The Champions: Jens Lehmann - Ashley Cole, Pascal Cygan, Kolo Abib Toure, Lauren Bisane-Etane - Robert Pires (Robin van Persie 72), Patrick Vieira, Francesc Fabregas Soler (Mathieu Flamini 81), Fredrik Ljungberg (Dennis Bergkamp 72) - Jose Antonio Reyes, Thierry Henry

The Eagles: Gabor Kiraly - Emmerson Boyce, Danny Granville, Tony Popovic, Gonzalo Sorondo (Mikele Leigertwood 24) - Wayne Routledge (Vassilis Lakis 52), Aki Riihilanti, Michael Hughes, Ben Watson - Joonas Kolkka (Dougie Freedman 80), Andy Johnson

That out of the way, the match reports (and probably the highlight shows too, when they come out) will make you feel like Arsenal are now the worst team walking the planet...I mean, how dare they drop two points on the road to another Premiership side? You might think I'm grasping at straws and going overboard with excuses. That's fine. If you do, then you don't understand several concepts -- first off, I knew this was going to happen when we finished last season unbeaten. The first rough patch we hit, people were going to be tripping over themselves to award the Premiership trophy to the next contender (in this case, a very, very good Chelsea side). Second, and I have been as guilty of this in the past as anyone, assuming that a team or a player is not worthy of being in the Premiership because you haven't heard of them is silly and incorrect. Crystal Palace have proven themselves to me, at least...these guys are staying up.

It all started brightly enough for the Gunners...Palace couldn't get past the center line for a good 20 minutes or so. It wasn't Arsenal at their absolute best, but look...get used to this now. As great a team as we have, they're not going to kill everyone 5-0 with three Goal of the Year contenders. In real life, sometimes Arsenal is only going to play decently-well instead of with sublime panache...sometimes, a spirited opponent will be able to do to us what Palace did.

In said 20 minutes, they came out and established their game plan, and they executed it extremely well. The 4 of you who actually read this may remember how I described Norwich City's setup as 2 lines of 4 guys in front of Robert Green, kind of like they were a 18th Century army. On that day, Arsenal scythed through the home defense, and on this day they didn't. But, while I like Nigel Worthington (he seems like a really nice guy) and I like Robert Green, Norwich City just don't have the horses to stay up in the Premier League. If they win four matches all year, I'll be very impressed. On the other hand, Palace is almost surely staying up, barring a rash of key injuries or Iain Dowie being plucked away by a bigger club. These guys have an insane fitness level, they defend very well, and more important than that, they are always dangerous on the counter-attack. Of course, Dowie is proving himself to be a legit Premierahip manager as well. Looking at the promoted sides, West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City are at least close to Palace defensively...maybe a B- to Palace's B+. But, the fact that Palace are a threat on the counter is what truly makes up the gulf in class between them. Norwich's best offensive option is Darren Huckerby...feel free to point and laugh, as I have several times. Albion has the exciting Zoltan Gera, who will surely find himself with another Premiership club when Albion get relegated.

Meanwhile, Palace have Andy Johnson, who is proving himself to be a more than capable of shining on this biggest of English stages. He's fast as hell, a good finisher, and can even be effective when playing as a lone striker (which is extremely hard to pull off). Their two Finns (Aki Riihilanti and Joonas Kolkka) are both capable, and I really like the guy they brought on as a sub, Vassilis Lakis. Not only do I dig seeing the real-life version of one of Championship Manager '02-03's cheap bargains, but he's tricky, he's fast, he's good on the ball...he's a nice little player. I don't understand why he's not starting for them, personally. Speaking of not understanding someone starting, can someone explain to me why Gabor Kiraly started the season on the bench for them? He's an international # 1 (Hungary's place on the pecking order notwithstanding), seems to have his positioning and angles down, has sharp reflexes...the only thing I can come up with is that he has a Lehmann-esque penchant for scary moments, especially on crosses.

As for us, I think we looked OK...everything up to the final third was great. They defended most of Palace's counters well enough (Kolo had a fantastic outing), and got the ball up into the enemy area very well. But, the final touch seemed to fail them, just as it did in the Southampton game (quick word on them: I think they're staying up too...they're just devastated with injuries, and I think their form is a statistical anamoly on top of it...they're better than their positon in the table). After that first 20 minutes though, Palace really got into the game, and had us on our heels on more than one occasion. Unfortunately for the Palace though, Gonzalo Sorondo went down with what they thought was a hamstring problem, and early into the match at that. It's always a nervous proposition when you're bring in the deputy's deputy, but I thought Mikele Leigertwood had a great game. It's even more impressive when match announcer Peter Drury spent a good two minutes after Leigertwood came in telling us how he was considered to be a First Division-level player.

Oh, a word about that, while I'm on the subject. They can stick this "League Championship" thing directly up their ass. On this website, you will only see the names Premier League, Division One, Division Two, Division Three, and the Conference.

Once Palace got settled into the game, it didn't take Nostradmus to see "0-0 at the half"...although Kiraly had to do well to save from a long-range effort by Kolo. Even after the restart, I figured this had nil-nil written all over it...mainly because both sides were doing a better job countering the opposition than creating anything themselves. But, out of absolutely nothing, Fabregas got the ball to Freddie, who crossed into the box. As noted before, Kiraly's weakness seems to be in handling these things, and it showed again here. I didn't see what he was trying to do, but when the replay got to him, he was on the ground for some reason. Henry was ridiculously open (meaning he only had one guy on him), and he easily nodded the ball into the vacated net. As I was breathing a sigh of relief (assuming we'd kill off the match), Henry showed more emotion that we've seen out of him in quite a while. He wanted that one as much as we all did.

But, the mark of a good side is being able to rebound from a mistake and get right back into a game. I'm beginning to think that Palace will be a good lower-midtable side, and two minutes later, they were level. The thing is, it wasn't an Arsenal mistake this time. It wasn't something you can blame on Pascal Cygan, which seems to be the new favorite sport among Arsenal fans (I hear he's responsible for AIDS, hunger, war, and George Bush being re-elected as well). They used their speed, some nice passes, and a clinical finish to get their goal...simple as that. It was a cross from Lakis in the end, and Riihilanti was there to direct it past Lehmann for the tying goal. Well done to them...they deserved it.

Actually, while a draw was a fair result, we couldn't have complained too much if Palace had actually won the damn thing. And, while Arsenal did get forward some after the goal, it was Palace who had a glaring chance to get all three points. Johnson was out wide (which he did to great effect throughout the match), and his cross found Lakis all alone in the area (OK, maybe this was Cygan's fault...I couldn't tell if Lakis was his or Kolo's to cover). But, Lakis' volley from four or five yards out went sailing over the crossbar. He may take some stick for it, but volleys aren't the easiest thing to control, and he did very well just getting that open. I guarantee you he'll get more chances like that, and he'll convert more than he misses. Johnson was always a threat as well, one instance requiring a Keown-esque saving tackle from Kolo to ease the danger.

I'll admit it...I breathed a little easier when the final whistle went. A little more van Persie magic would have been nice (speaking of which, our subs were largely anonymous in this one), but all told, I'll be glad with the point. Of course, Chelsea was able to see off Everton at home, so now they're top of the league by two points. However, don't put those blue and white ribbons on the trophy just yet, will you please? Not only is there a long way to go, Chelsea haven't had a stretch of not playing well yet...and, in a 38-game season, it's going to happen somewhere along the line. It's now up to Arsenal to stay consistent and get results more often than not. I think we can do it...we have a better chance than the Manchester scum, referee-assisted Battle of Old Trafford or not (wait until we get you at Highbury, you pricks).

So, it's Everton in the League Cup (as with the league names, so with the cup names...I'm not seeing any advertising money) on Tuesday. Good luck to the kids there, as a nice run in that competition will get some starts for people we can't fit into the starting 11 at the moment (van Persie, Flamini, Manuel Almunia). After that, next weekend sees our best chance at getting the train back on the rails...our annual trip to Shite Hart Lane to play the Tottenscum. Now without their allegedly-World Class manager, in disarray and coming off a home loss to stuggling Charlton Athletic...yes, please. I hope the guys are already drooling at the prospect of putting five or six past those jerkoffs. See you then.


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