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Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 0: Gunners throw the latest punch in title fight

Your move, City.

Marouane Chamakh tries to stop Mesut Oezil from breaking through but Arsenal would not be kept at bay in the second half. Picture: Reuters
Marouane Chamakh tries to stop Mesut Oezil from breaking through but Arsenal would not be kept at bay in the second half. Picture: Reuters

It was a challenge made yesterday by a team from London and intended for a rival in Manchester, as Arsenal got the better of Crystal Palace to return to the top of the Barclays Premier League table.

They would muscle past Manchester City on the way and with the same intent as a surly bloke from Dan Saff spoiling for a fight in the boozer, only for the clubs to be held apart by two league points and 200 miles of English countryside.

They will come to blows next month when City make their way to the Emirates Stadium. It is likely that both will still have something to fight over; the league championship.

City's next step can be made over Arsenal, should Manuel Pellegrini's side win at home against Chelsea this evening. Until then their title rivals will feel obliged to posture. You would think that would come naturally to a player nicknamed 'the Ox' - Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scoring twice yesterday to force a stubborn Palace side out the road.

The Arsenal midfielder would have taken particular satisfaction from that, since he has now returned to full fitness after five months out with a knee injury sustained on the opening day of the season. His side would also share in that, given that Palace had refused to succumb all the way through the first half.

It was an act of rudeness which was countered by a moment of cheek, Oxlade-Chamberlain chipping in after he collected a pass from Santi Cazorla just two minutes after the break. The England internationalist made his point again when he slapped a shot past goalkeeper Julian Speroni half an hour later.

"We needed to get three points and it was difficult because Crystal Palace are a united team, very well-organised with a big physical quality and impact in every challenge," said Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, who will be without new loan signing Kim Kallstrom until the midfielder recovers from a back problem.

"On our side we needed to be patient, intelligent and use our opportunities that most of the time come in the second half. That is what we did. Our defensive stability doesn't create unrest in the team and allows us to continue the way we want to play, even if we don't score early goals, and that's what happened [yesterday]. You don't have to rush your game too much."

The Frenchman would almost trip over himself trying to credit Oxlade-Chamberlain for his part in the victory. Arsenal are now unbeaten in 10 matches - their last defeat manifest in a 6-3 defeat by City before Christmas.

"I always believed that [Oxlade-Chamberlain] could play wide and central, I said that many times that his future will be central," said Wenger. "He has proven me right, by scoring the goals but also by the quality of his performance.

"We do not play against average teams and Man City have scored over 100 goals, so everybody thinks 'can you beat these teams?' I say yes and that is what we have to show. It is all to do. The only thing I can say is that after 24 games we are there, and it's now about how we finish the season."

That goes for Palace, too. The London side will have accepted that this campaign would be beset by toil and trouble and defeat yesterday has left them a point above West Ham United, and the relegation places. Tony Pulis would not promote recent acquisitions Tom Ince or Joe Ledley - signed from Celtic on the last day of the transfer window - but reiterated that those players would have a major role in their new club's survival. "They will hopefully give us more of a threat," said the Palace manager.

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