Alexis Sanchez turned back time to the days when his goals used to fuel Arsenal’s ambition and inspire hope with a match-winning contribution.
Is it too cynical to point out that it came in the penultimate game of the year, before the transfer market opens? Sanchez has not quite been himself this season without playing especially badly and those who have seen plenty of him know there is more in the tank.
The Chilean is one of the rare breed of players who can seize a game and shake it into a different shape, which is precisely what he did here on Thursday night. Arsenal had taken a first-half lead through Shkodran Mustafi but Andros Townsend levelled soon after the interval.
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after his second goal in four minutes saw Arsenal go 3-1 up and take control of Thursday’s game
Andros Townsend is embraced by Wilfried Zaha (left) and Jeffrey Schlupp (right) after he crashed home the equalising goal
Shkodran Mustafi punches the air in celebration after his smart finish from a tight angle gave Arsenal the lead at Selhurst Park
MATCH STATS, PLAYER RATINGS AND MATCH ZONE
CRYSTAL PALACE 4-4-2: Speroni 6; Kelly 6 (Fosu-Mensah 80), Tomkins 6, Dann 6, Schlupp 6; Townsend 6, Cabaye 5.5 (McArthur 53, 6), Milivojevic 6, Loftus-Cheek 5.5 (Sako 70, 5); Zaha 7.5, Benteke 6.
GOALS: Townsend 49
SUBS NOT USED: Hennessey, Van Aanholt, Puncheon, Riedwald.
MANAGER: Roy Hodgson 6.
ARSENAL 3-4-2-1: Cech 6; Chambers 6, Mustafi 6.5, Koscielny 6; Bellerin 6, Wilshere 7.5, Xhaka 6.5 (Maitland-Niles), Kolasinac 6; Ozil 7, Sanchez 8; Lacazette 6.5 (Coquelin 75).
GOALS: Mustafi 25, Sanchez 62, 66,
SUBS NOT USED: Ospina, Walcott, Holding, Iwobi, Welbeck.
MANAGER: Arsene Wenger 6
REF: Michael Oliver 6
Palace sensed another victory and Selhurst Park was pulsating when Sanchez stepped forward. With one flash of his right boot he restored Arsenal’s lead and with a change of pace and a deft touch with the outside of his right thigh, he controlled an excellent pass from Jack Wilshere and made it 3-1.
A contest which had been tight and anxious for Arsene Wenger on the night he equalled Sir Alex Ferguson’s record of 810 Premier League games had been settled in the course of four minutes.
For Sanchez, it was a first double since May. For Arsenal, three points to keep them in touch with the top four. For Crystal Palace, a first defeat in nine games and an end, for the time being at least, to their upward mobility under Roy Hodgson.
Wenger started with a back three. The 3-0 defeat at Selhurst Park in April, amid dissent from Arsenal supporters who turned on their own players, proved to be a catalyst for tactical change.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was taking charge of his 810th Premier League game – tying a record held by Sir Alex Ferguson
Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette attempts to control the ball under pressure from Crystal Palace defender Schlupp
Mustafi reacted well to side-foot home Arsenal’s opener from a tight angle after Julian Speroni saved from Lacazette
The Crystal Palace goalkeeper watches as Mustafi’s effort rolls across the line to put Arsenal in front at Selhurst Park
The defender was congratulated by his Arsenal team-mates after putting the away side 1-0 up in the 24th minute
He switched to a three-man defence for the next game and stuck with it for eight months before reverting to a back four at West Ham a fortnight ago, admitting it had always been his preferred formation. Here he went back to a three, selecting Calum Chambers for his first Premier League start since the start of last season with a view to keeping Wilfried Zaha under control without losing the strength of Mustafi to combat Christian Benteke.
Zaha was influential as Palace opened with purpose, running at Arsenal, jinking and twisting, making defenders nervous around the fringes of their own penalty area.
As Arsenal backed off, he teed-up Yohan Cabaye, who fizzed the first meaningful effort of the game narrowly wide.
With two up front, Palace did not come out to stifle the contest but their sense adventure did offer Wenger’s team the time and space to settle into their rhythm.
Zaha attempts to escape the attentions of Arsenal defenders Calum Chambers (left) and Hector Bellerin (right)
Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil, who missed a great chance to make it 2-0 to the away side, prepares to head the ball
Christian Benteke attempts to chest the ball under pressure from Chambers during the first half on Thursday evening
Arsenal were on top by the time Mustafi broke the deadlock. Julian Speroni gathered a drive from Wilshere, starting a fourth Premier League game in a row, but the Palace goalkeeper looked jittery and despite making plenty of saves he did not exude authority.
When Speroni pushed aside Alexandre Lacazette’s curling shot he presented Mustafi with the chance to open the scoring. The Arsenal centre half accepted it, adjusting his feet quickly to apply a clean finish, first-time from an angle.
There was a hint of offside against Sanchez as Lacazette went for goal. Replays showed he was a fraction off but there was no proof he had interfered with the goalkeeper’s vision.
The goal stood and Arsenal fans celebrated with a chorus mocking their own disappointing away form and their team stepped up a gear with Sanchez and Mesut Ozil central to everything they created.
Townsend showed great technique as he executed a controlled finish from the edge of the area after Zaha’s precise cutback
Townsend (right) runs off in celebration as his shot crashes into the bottom corner to draw the home side level against Arsenal
The winger is greeted by Schlupp as he toasts scoring his first goal of the season for Palace with a low finish into the corner
Arsenal players are left dejected after Townsend’s equalised for Palace three minutes into the second half at Selhurst Park
Jack Wilshere rises highest to win a header over James McArthur during a midfield battle in Thursday’s Premier League clash
Speroni made a splendid reflex save to deny Ozil as he burst clear on to a pass from Sanchez and Lacazette lashed another effort wide. Ozil sliced through the centre of Palace’s defence to confront the goalkeeper again before the interval.
This time he was unable to fashion a shot on goal and tried instead to squeeze a pass square to Lacazette. The pass was too heavy and Hodgson’s team reached the sanctuary of half-time only one goal adrift.
Zaha became embroiled in an argument with referee Michael Oliver as the teams came off at half-time. The Palace striker had become increasingly frustrated by decisions going against him and in particular a free-kick given for a foul on Wilshere.
He took his revenge at the start of the second half when he returned for an inspiration spell, sparked when he set up Townsend for the equaliser.
Sanchez thumped in Arsenal’s second just past the hour mark as his rasping shot caught out Speroni at his near post
Sanchez celebrates with Laurent Koscielny after he smashed his shot home to put Arsenal back in front on 62 minutes
Sanchez showed great composure to collect Wilshere’s pass and finish past the onrushing Palace goalkeeper Speroni
The Chilean forward scored his second in just four second-half minutes to put Wenger’s side 3-1 up against Palace
Zaha collected the ball from Jeffrey Schlupp, drove past Chambers and supplied a low cross.
Townsend darted inside from the Palace right, undetected by Sead Kolasinac or Laurent Koscielny and met it near the penalty spot with a crisp left-foot shot that flashed past Petr Cech.
Zaha forced Cech into action, and then released Schlupp, who buried a shot into the side-netting from an angle.
Palace sensed the victory but Sanchez had other ideas.
Lacazette was frustrated after he was substituted off during the second half of the Premier League clash at Selhurst Park
Zaha shows his frustration after he skewed a header wide just six yards out from goal with Palace chasing the game
Petr Cech is helpless as James Tomkins header goes past him to ensure a nervy finish to the match at Selhurst Park
Tomkins charges back to the centre circle after his header made it 3-2 with just a minute of normal time remaining
First, the Chilean fired Arsenal back in front with a ferocious strike which went through the legs of James Tomkins and beat Speroni at his near post.
Four minutes later, he collected a fine long pass from Wilshere, took a touch on his thigh and poked the ball past the advancing goalkeeper.
Palace surged forward and Tomkins headed in from Townsend’s corner with a minute left but Arsenal held out.
Goalscorers Townsend and Sanchez embrace after the match as Arsenal collected just their third away league win this season
Roy Hodgson applauds the Palace fans after the Eagles saw their eight-match unbeaten run ended at the hands of Arsenal
Wilshere claps the away supporters at the final whistle after delivering his most impressive performance of the season so far