AFP, LONDON: Alexis Sanchez scored twice in four second half minutes to give Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger victory on the night he equalled Alex Ferguson’s Premier League record of matches in charge with a 3-2 win over Crystal Palace.
Sanchez’s brace — the second a beauty from Jack Wilshere’s superb pass — added to Shkodran Mustafi’s first ever away goal for the Gunners was just enough to get them past the Eagles in Wenger’s 810th Premier League game as a manager.
James Tomkins’s 89th minute header — Andros Townsend had drawn them level at 1-1 early in the second-half before Sanchez’s scoring burst — ensured a nervy finish, but the Gunners deserved to run out winners and end Palace’s eight-game unbeaten run.
Arsenal drew level with fourth-placed north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur but with a worse goal difference whilst Palace remain firmly embroiled in a battle against relegation just a point above the bottom three.
Palace were able to apply some pressure during the opening stages, the closest they came to testing Petr Cech came when Yohan Cabaye shot narrowly wide from 20 yards out.
Wenger’s side gradually took charge and they forced the breakthrough in the 24th minute when Palace’s failure to clear Mesut Ozil’s free-kick eventually led to Mustafi’s opening goal.
The ball was played back towards the right side of the area where Alexandre Lacazette drew a good save from Julian Speroni only for the ball to fall to Mustafi who finished neatly with a first time shot.
Six minutes later, Arsenal would have been two up but for Speroni who produced an excellent, one-handed reaction save after Ozil had latched onto Sanchez’s superbly weighted through ball. Wilfried Zaha was Palace’s most threatening player throughout the first half with the Ivorian maintaining the form that has seen him linked with a number of top clubs this season.
It also made the winger a target for some robust treatment with Callum Chambers booked for pulling him back.
Zaha made the point he believed he deserved more protection too vigorously to referee Michael Oliver as they left the pitch at half time and could have been sent off after sarcastically reacting to the match official’s decision to show him a yellow card.
Zaha though reacted in a more positive way after the restart as he eased his way past Chambers before pulling the ball back towards Townsend who struck a first time shot past Cech from near the penalty spot.
At that point Palace were in the ascendancy but Sanchez’s quick double soon killed off the home side’s hopes.
The first came after Chambers played a deep ball into the home penalty area that was controlled by Sanchez before the Chile international exchanged passes with Lacazette and drilled the ball past Speroni.
Then four minutes later, the forward had his second after collecting Wilshere’s long ball over the top with his first touch and finishing with his second.
Tomkins late header from a corner came too late for the home side.
Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger admits he is no nearer to establishing where Arsenal’s Chilean star Alexis Sanchez’s future lies.
Wenger praised the 29-year-old’s two-goal display that helped secure a 3-2 victory at Crystal Palace on an evening where the French manager equalled Manchester United legend Alex Ferguson’s Premier League record of 810 matches in charge.
Sanchez’s commitment has been questioned this season following his failure to reach agreement with the north London club about an extension to his current contract that expires at the end of this season.
Wenger believes the player’s performance at Selhurst Park showed there has been no let up in the player’s effort, but with the January transfer window about to open, has no idea about the player’s next move.
“First of all nobody knows what will happen really,” said Wenger.
“It’s difficult to speculate. At the moment we are focused on short-term, that means the next game (against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday) with the players committed and ready to fight.
“It’s not a guarantee of how long you stay somewhere. As long as you are somewhere, you give your best.
“I felt he was very good tonight from the first minute on, focused on the game. This kind of Sanchez is a great football player, as we know. That’s the kind of performance we want from him.”
Jack Wilshere — starting his fourth successive match his longest run in several years — is also in the final year of his contract and Wenger believes he too showed his remains committed to the cause.
“They are questioned, always, when people don’t have long contracts,” said Wenger. “The best way to show they are committed is to give that kind of performance.
“Jack is coming back in competitive shape. He gives something to the team at the moment, and gave a good final ball for the third goal.”
Wenger said Arsenal and Wilshere are due to open talks in January.
“The situation is that we need to sit down with him. Beginning of January, it’s planned. There is no delay.
“I said we would sort out his situation in December, end of December, and so I told him we want to meet and sit down with him to talk about the future.