By Chris Harris at Emirates Stadium
A late goal from Yannick Bolasie denied Arsenal after Alexis had given them the edge in this London derby.
Chances were few and far between in a pedestrian first half that saw Crystal Palace defend in numbers and Arsenal struggle to break them down.
But Alexis came alive to set up a chance for Mesut Ozil and then loop in a header from Danny Welbeck’s lofted pass.
It had been a test of Arsenal’s patience but their football had more flow in the second half with Palace forced to come out of their shell.
Ozil almost added a second with a sumptuous free-kick and Alexis’ header bounced just wide as the Gunners looked to kill the game off.
Instead, they were hit by a sucker-punch when Bolasie fired into the bottom corner.
Arsenal deserved three points but just the one leaves them in fourth, behind Manchester City on goal difference.
SETTING THE SCENE
Wenger has said for some time that Arsenal would be “looking over their shoulders” as well as aiming high in the final weeks of the season. And they went into this game in fourth place after City’s big win at Chelsea on Saturday.
With Manchester United also in hot pursuit, the Gunners needed points to help cement a Champions League place.
Wenger kept faith with the outfield players who started the last three games but he did make one change, bringing back Petr Cech in goal. Joel Campbell replaced Kieran Gibbs on the bench.
Arsenal’s record in London derbies this season has been unusually poor - they had six points from seven games ahead of this weekend - and Palace looked like a tough nut to crack after registering back-to-back clean sheets.
The visitors had a familiar face on their bench - former Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
Palace’s tactics were clear from the start: defend in numbers, and keep Ozil quiet.
They did that pretty well. The height in Palace’s back four gave them a clear advantage when defending crosses, and the visitors’ industry in midfield made it hard for Arsenal to find any sort of rhythm.
Mile Jedinak was given the job of stifling Arsenal’s creative hub and he stuck to Ozil like glue. The Arsenal playmaker did break free of his shackles to pick out Welbeck, but the half-chance came and went in a flash as a defender got across to cover.
Mohamed Elneny had a shot blocked from the edge of the box and saw another effort deflected over, but goalkeeper Hennessy had little to do.
Cech was even less busy, with Palace pretty much redundant as an attacking force. He had one save to make in the first half-hour - a low stop from Yannick Bolasie’s curling shot.
This would be a test of Arsenal’s patience. They’d had 76 per cent of the possession but little in the way of openings.
Suddenly, there was a change of gear. Alexis connected well with a free-kick and, although it flicked off the wall and went wide, it flicked a switch.
Moments later, Alexis received a pass from Ozil and picked out the German’s run into the box, but Hennessey saved well.
Connor Wickham headed a good chance over the bar in a rare Palace attack, but Alexis had the bit between his teeth now and he had the final word of the first half.
Welbeck did well to win back possession 25 yards out, and he clipped a diagonal ball into the box for Alexis to loop a header over Hennessey.
Alexis, very much in the mood, set up a half-chance at the start of the second half. Two stepovers befuddled his marker and a low cross was met by Welbeck - but the shot was blocked.
Nonetheless, Arsenal’s handbrake was off. A well-worked short corner saw Ozil find Francis Coquelin and he scooped the ball into the six-yard box for Alex Iwobi to glance a header wide.
Iwobi then turned provider with a deft backheel for Welbeck, who had sprinted to the corner flag to initially keep the ball alive. His finish was intended to catch out Hennessey at his near post but the keeper made the save.
The sight of Adebayor warming up enlivened the home fans but Ozil was soon centre stage with a wonderful free-kick that curled just wide with Hennessey well beaten.
Welbeck’s volley hit Hennessey from point-blank range and Alexis’ stooping header bounced wide after a quickly-taken free-kick from Ozil caught Palace napping.
Cech was alert to tip over Bakary Sako’s header but he could not keep out Bolasie’s fizzing 20-yard effort after the Palace forward had sold a dummy to Coquelin.
That was tough on Arsenal and off they went in search of a winner, but a header from Gabriel was the closest they came.
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Referee: Roger East
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