Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates with teammate Mikel Arteta after scoring against Crystal Palace in the English Premier League, 2 February. Reuters
Arsenal needed a lift after a rather disappointing performance and result at Southampton had seen their place at the top of the English Premier League table taken by a rampant Manchester City.
With injuries and a suspect January signing grabbing the headlines, Arsene Wenger desperately needed the focus to return to matters on the pitch, and two typically Arsenal-like goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gave the manager exactly what he was hoping for - three points and an eventually comfortable 2-0 win over Crystal Palace.
The result took Arsenal back to the Premier League summit, with Wenger happy with the patience shown by his side against a thou-shall-not-pass defensive-minded Palace side.
"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," Wenger said in his post-match press conference. "I must say they did that in a fair way but it was very difficult to create space.
"On our side we needed to be patient, intelligent and use our opportunities that most of the time come in the second half. That's what we did."
Oxlade-Chamberlain was the main man for Arsenal on Sunday evening at the Emirates, getting on the end of two great Arsenal moves, and finishing with aplomb, while showing he is more than capable of playing as a central midfielder, a position that Wenger has time and again said is the England international's future position.
"I always believed that he could play wide and central, I said that many times that his future will be central," the Frenchman added. "He has proven me right, by scoring the goals but also by the quality of his performance.
"It took him a while to get back. He was injured against Aston Villa on that famous day and it took him a while to get back. Overall I'm pleased that he's now back to full fitness. You could see that he had some cramps in the end, that he is still a bit short."
One of the primary reasons behind Arsenal's good form this season has been their defence, which has conceded only 21 goals all campaign - only Chelsea have a better record with 20 goals conceded - and Wenger believes that defensive stability gives his attacking players the license to go out and play their game and unlock those stubborn defences determined to keep the ball from banging into the back of their nets.
"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, and that's what happened today," he said. "At home we don't concede and that of course means you don't have to rush your game too much."
The win sees Arsenal move two points clear of second-placed Manchester City. Manuel Pellegrini's men can jump right back to first place, though, with their own three points on Monday night at the Etihad, but it will be far from easy as they face Jose Mourinho's Chelsea.
"I will watch that game with interest because it's two competitors against us and it's always interesting to see how they behave," Wenger said. "We gained some points through some other opponents like Liverpool and Man United over this weekend, and I think we know that our results at the Emirates will be massively important until the end."
Having played 24 games, Arsenal find themselves very much in the title race, along with City and Chelsea, and while many have predicted the team's demise, Wenger believes his side have the capabilities to prove the doubters wrong.
"Because in the last several years you [the media] have ingrained that in your brain, and it's very difficult to get it out now," Wenger said when asked about critics writing Arsenal off in the title race. "I can understand that completely because we haven't done it for a while, and as well I must say that we face quality competitors.
"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's 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."
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