Arsene Wenger breathed a sigh of relief as Arsenal got their title challenge up and running with a hard-fought 2-1 win at Crystal Palace on Sunday.
After slumping to a dismal 2-0 defeat against West Ham United in their Premier League opener, Wenger’s side had no margin for error at Selhurst Park if they wanted to avoid being cast adrift in the title race.
They rose to the challenge, securing a first league win of the season thanks to Olivier Giroud’s superb 16th-minute volley and a Damien Delaney own goal in the 55th minute after Joel Ward had blasted Palace level in the 28th minute.
It was a much-needed confidence boost for the Gunners and Wenger conceded it would have been hard to recover if they had left Selhurst Park empty handed.
“I’m very pleased with the three points. If we had gone two games and zero points it would be absolutely difficult and we knew this would be a tricky one,” Wenger said.
“Last week we had a bit of a stroll and thought we would win the game. Today we played real Premier League football from the first minute to the last.
“With the ambitions we have made you have to have full commitment and we had that today.”
Palace manager Alan Pardew was furious with referee Lee Mason’s refusal to send off Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin, who avoided a red card despite several aggressive challenges when he had already been booked.
“I said to Lee Mason: ‘Listen. That tackle before half-time is not a sending off at that point but that’s his last chance, you know that’,” Pardew said.
“He then makes the foul and he’s (should be) off at that point. Arsene Wenger knew that and took him off. It’s a decision Lee Mason needs to be braver on.”
But Wenger claimed Mason had got it right.
“I felt it wasn’t fortunate (that Coquelin avoided a red card). I would like to see that again but in the end the pressure created by the crowd meant I took him off,” Wenger added.
Later on Sunday, champions Chelsea aim to end a troubled week on a high when they face title rivals Manchester City at Eastlands.
The Blues were held to a disappointing 2-2 draw against Swansea City last Saturday, while manager Jose Mourinho was widely condemned for his criticism of the club’s medical staff, who had irked the Chelsea boss by running onto the pitch to treat Eden Hazard when he felt the Belgian wasn’t seriously injured.
City go into the clash of the last two English champions in buoyant mood after opening the season with a 3-0 win at West Bromwich Albion.