By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
Olivier Giroud ushered in 2017 in style with a truly breathtaking scorpion kick as we beat Crystal Palace on New Year’s Day.
The France international was the hero last time out as his 87th-minute winner helped us to a Boxing Day victory over West Bromwich Albion - but this effort was the sort of goal that defines a career.
Giroud - having raced upfield to get on the end of a sweeping counter-attack - swivelled to meet Alexis’ ball in from the left of the box, before flicking it nonchalantly with the outside of his boot and into the roof of the net.
It was a magnificent goal, and one that will spark debates as to whether it is the best we have ever seen at Emirates. The reaction of the home crowd was one of jubilation, mixed with sheer disbelief.
We could not add to our advantage before the interval despite going close through Mohamed Elneny and Alexis, but continued to up the ante after the restart.
Our reward came in the 56th minute as Alex Iwobi scored the first headed goal of his career after reacting quickest to a scuffed clearance in the area.
Petr Cech was called on to make three important saves in quick succession soon afterwards, but in truth we were never seriously tested thereafter as we eased to our first three points of the new year.
But it was Giroud’s goal that will live longest in the memory. What a way to start his - and our - New Year.
SETTING THE SCENE
The New Year may be a time for resolutions, but uppermost in Arsenal minds was the need for three points having seen Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham all win before they had kicked a ball in 2017.
Arsene Wenger made three changes from the team that beat West Bromwich Albion on Boxing Day, with the headline news seeing Mesut Ozil miss out through illness and replaced by Lucas.
Kieran Gibbs’s knee injury had not recovered sufficiently to allow him to take his place back in the team, meaning Nacho Monreal came in at left back, while the final change saw Mohamed Elneny replace Francis Coquelin.
Shkodran Mustafi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were back to full fitness and on the bench, where they were joined by youngsters Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Jeff Reine-Adelaide.
Palace meanwhile, came into the game with a new manager in Sam Allardyce and the former England boss included Mathieu Flamini in his midfield for the 200th Premier League game at Emirates Stadium.
Having been frustrated by West Brom for so long last time out, we burst out of the blocks here in a bid to avoid any repeat and came close to opening the scoring after six minutes.
Granit Xhaka was the orchestrator, finding Monreal in the box with a well-crafted ball and the Spain international did superbly to take it first time and roll the ball across the six-yard box. It was begging for a touch from an Arsenal player, with
Giroud best placed but he could not sort his feet out in time to poke it in.
We continued to knock on the door, with Alexis soon cutting inside from the left and fizzing a fierce drive just beyond the far post, before Alex Iwobi tested Wayne Hennessey soon afterwards.
A goal was coming, but no one could have predicted the quite extraordinary strike that would open the scoring.
It was a complete team goal, as Lucas won the ball back on the edge of his own area before Arsenal sprung forward at pace on the counter. Slick pass followed slick pass, before Iwobi found Alexis to the left of the area and the Chilean took a touch before chipping the ball in towards Giroud in the area.
What followed next was the sort of goal that will go down in the annals as one of the greats as the France international, who had slightly overrun the ball, flicked out his left foot over his shoulder and sent his shot careering in off the underside of the bar.
It was a staggering strike, and the Emirates crowd knew they had witnessed something very special and so did Giroud’s team-mates, who ran en masse to celebrate with the forward.
It was the fourth goal of his career against the Eagles, and while he scored a superb volley against them at Selhurst Park last season, this was something else altogether.
We were purring, stroking the ball about confidently and stretching the visitors’ defence at will, with Elneny next to go close as he struck a powerful drive inches wide of the near post.
We could not add the second goal that our domination merited before the interval, but Giroud’s stunning scorpion kick was certainly reward enough for an encouraging first 45 minutes of 2017.
Palace came out with renewed energy after the break, and came close to equalising when Andros Townsend broke up the right and found Christian Benteke, who headed inches wide of the far post.
Arsenal responded instantly, with Lucas seeing a low shot deflected wide, before a scramble from the resulting corner saw Iwobi and then Alexis presented with chances they could not take.
While we only had that one-goal lead, the visitors would always be a danger but with 56 minutes on the clock we extended our advantage to ease any fears.
Monreal had been a real attacking threat all afternoon, and once again he was at the heart of it, sending in a low strike from the byeline that Scott Dann could only clear straight up into the air.
Iwobi reacted quickest, running on to the ball and heading it in via the head of the desperately backpeddling Dann. It may not have had the aesthetic beauty of our first goal, but this was just as valuable as we sought the win that would help us keep pace at the top of the table.
The visitors weren’t quite out of it though, and Petr Cech was soon called into action to first keep out Benteke’s header from a corner, before denying Yohan Cabaye and then Townsend in quick succession.
But it was only a brief period of pressure to soak up, before we were back on the front foot and pressing for the third goal that would well and truly kill off the game.
It did not come - although Aaron Ramsey went close after stepping off the bench - but it mattered not as we secured our first three points of the New Year thanks to Giroud’s moment of magic.
Referee: Andre Marriner
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