Arsenal back on top as Wenger pays tribute to solid defence

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Returning Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scores twice and Gunners keep yet another clean sheet

LAST UPDATED AT 09:01 ON Mon 3 Feb 2014

Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 0. Two goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took Arsenal back to the top of the Premier League as the Gunners ground out a hard-fought win over a well-organised Crystal Palace.

Arsenal's two point lead over Manchester City may not last long, what with the Sky Blues hosting Chelsea tonight, but it was a precious win for the Londoners given that earlier in the day Liverpool had dropped two points against West Bromwich Albion.

Arsenal are now eight points clear of Liverpool and if the Gunners can get a result next Saturday at Anfield it will almost certainly put the Reds out of the title race once and for all. But if Arsenal are to win on Merseyside at the weekend then they'll have to play better than they did in the first half against Palace.

The Gunners barely threatened their visitors' goal in the first 45 minutes but that all changed after the break with Oxlade-Chamberlain opening Arsenal's account two minutes into the second-half. Santi Cazorla was the provider, lifting a dreamy pass over the top of the Palace defence, which allowed the 'Ox' to beat the offside trap and lob Julian Speroni. The 20-year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain, who missed the first four months of the season with a knee injury, grabbed a second on 73 minutes after exchanging passes with Oliver Giroud and then firing a low shot into the Palace net.

"It was nice to get the win today," said the youngster later. "I've been off the pitch for a while so it was nice to come back and help the team." Asked if he and his teammates had ever felt that they might not be able to break down the Palace defence after a lacklustre first-half, Oxlade-Chamberlain replied: "It was a tough game but we knew that in the second half if we kept the tempo up we would get more opportunities and thankfully we did."

Although Arsene Wenger praised the "quality" contribution of Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Arsenal manager singled out his back four as the key. They have now gone nearly ten hours without conceding a goal at the Emirates and Wenger is delighted.

"What I must say is that 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," he explained. "That's what happened today. At home we don't concede and that of course means you don't have to rush your game too much."

Asked if he thought there were now only three clubs in the title race, Wenger said he "wouldn't go as far as that", but he did add that he would settling down in front of his TV tonight to watch Chelsea take on Manchester City. "I will watch that game with interest," he said. "It's two competitors against us and it's always interesting to see how they behave." · 

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