London (AFP) – Arsenal proved they can thrive without Alexis Sanchez as the rampant Gunners scored four times in the first 22 minutes of their 4-1 victory over hapless Crystal Palace on Saturday.
With Sanchez left out of the squad as his blockbuster move to Manchester United inches closer, Arsene Wenger’s side gave an emphatic response to suggestions the Chile forward’s imminent departure would wreck their already rocky season.
The Gunners ended a five-match winless run in all competitions and tasted victory for the first time in 2018 thanks to their incredible goal blitz at the Emirates Stadium.
Their first win since Sanchez helped them beat Palace on December 28 was never in doubt after Nacho Monreal opened the scoring.
Alex Iwobi, stepping in for Sanchez, and Laurent Koscielny struck to put Arsenal three up in 13 minutes before Alexandre Lacazette netted to end his goal drought.
As Sanchez prepares to seal a £30 million switch that will reportedly see United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan move to Arsenal as part of the deal, and possibly also prompt Wenger to sign Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, this was a well-timed reminder that the Gunners still have some talent in reserve.
It was also vital to Arsenal’s chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League as they move within five points of fourth-placed Liverpool.
“We played our real game in the first half, real pace and real combination,” Wenger said.
“For 45 minutes our fans have seen some great football.
“We know the challenge in front of us is very difficult, but it’s exciting as well.”
After so much angst this season, it was a rare uplifting day for Wenger, who had made four changes to the side that lost at Bournemouth last Sunday, with Mesut Ozil back after a knee problem that has sidelined him since January 3.
With t-shirts bearing Sanchez’s face being sold at half-price outside the Emirates, it appeared Arsenal fans were ready to move on from their unsettled star.
And Sanchez’s soon to be former team-mates didn’t seem fazed by his impending exit either as they raced into a sixth-minute lead.
– Confidence restored –
Iwobi won a corner with a fierce shot that Wayne Hennessey pushed away.
From the resulting set-piece, Monreal powered past Palace’s sloppy marking to head home from close-range.
After spluttering badly in recent weeks Arsenal were sweeping forward with real purpose and doubled their lead in the 10th minute.
This time it was young winger Iwobi who provided the finishing touch with a clinical close-range finish from Monreal’s cross.
Palace were in complete disarray and Wenger’s men punished more woeful defending to make it three in the 13th minute.
Monreal alertly hooked the ball into the six-yard box after Palace failed to deal with a cross and Koscielny was on hand to prod home for the French defender’s first goal of the season.
It was the first time a Premier League team had scored three goals in the first 13 minutes since Arsenal against Newcastle in 2011.
With confidence fully restored after so many setbacks of late, Arsenal took their frustrations out on Palace and even out-of-form Lacazette got in on the act in the 22nd minute.
Jack Wilshere teed up Ozil and his sublime back-heel sent France striker Lacazette clear to slot home his first goal in his last 10 appearances.
Monreal limped off with a knock before the interval, but Arsenal were in such command that Wenger could afford to send on 18-year-old forward Reiss Nelson for his Premier League debut in the second half.
Luka Milivojevic swivelled to drive in Palace’s consolation in the 78th minute, but the damage was long since done.