Saka double against Palace sends Arsenal eight points clear
LONDON, March 19 (Reuters) - Arsenal will head into the international break eight points clear in the Premier League title race after Bukayo Saka scored twice in a 4-1 home defeat of Crystal Palace on Sunday.
With chasers Manchester City otherwise engaged this weekend in the FA Cup, Arsenal took full advantage with Gabriel Martinelli opening the scoring and Granit Xhaka also on target.
Jeffrey Schlupp got Palace's first goal in five league games to briefly raise their hopes in the second half but Arsenal were never going to miss the chance to tighten their grip on top spot as they chase a first English title for 19 years.
Arsenal's ninth victory in London derbies this season, a new English league record, took them to 69 points from 28 games with reigning champions City on 61 having played a game fewer.
Mikel Arteta's Arsenal side bowed out of the Europa League on penalties to Sporting on Thursday but they showed no sign of hangover from that disappointment and a sixth successive Premier League win looked in the bag by halftime with Martinelli opening the scoring from Saka's pass in the 28th minute.
It was the perfect response by the Brazilian whose penalty miss against Sporting proved so costly in midweek.
Saka doubled the lead in the 43rd when he guided home a low shot beyond Palace's teenaged goalkeeper Joe Whitworth after being played in by Ben White's pass.
Arsenal were running riot when Xhaka made it 3-0 10 minutes into the second half after an assist by Leandro Trossard.
Schlupp replied just past the hour and there were a few jittery moments with Wilfried Zaha firing inches wide before Saka made sure with his 12th league goal of the season in the 74th, guiding in a first-time shot from Kiernan Tierney's pass.
Palace, who sacked manager Patrick Vieira this week and are without a win in 2023, stay in 12th place but are only three points above the relegation zone.
With Spring in the air in north London there was a feeling of euphoria at the final whistle with Arsenal now assured of an eight-point lead going into April as the season pauses briefly for England's Euro 2024 qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine.
Arteta said he was impressed at how his team bounced back from the midweek Europa League exit.
"Really pleased with the performance, the energy, the determination that we showed again, the way we controlled the game," Arteta told Sky Sports.
"It was tough after playing 120 minutes in the week, wondering how the team would react but they reacted brilliantly and the crowd was at it again."
Palace's stand-in manager Paddy McCarthy said there were positives to take from the match, despite the scoreline.
"Even when we went down we were able to create in moments. But this is high-quality opposition," he said. "They are top for a reason. I can't fault the lads' effort.
"They are a good group and they have to believe in themselves. Whatever happens, this group has more than enough."
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