Surrender of two-goal lead is almost an irrelevance on day of mutiny at Arsenal
A day of chaos, controversy and mutiny at the Emirates, where Arsenal’s frenetic start to the season continued in the most extraordinary fashion. To call this a feisty draw with Crystal Palace would be doing a major disservice to the sheer number of incidents on an afternoon when the connection between the Arsenal team and their fans appeared more frayed than at any point in Unai Emery’s reign.
The lingering image of this match will be the sight of a furious Granit Xhaka swearing at his own supporters and marching down the tunnel, his shirt abandoned on the floor behind him. The home crowd turned on the club captain and then called en masse for Mesut Ozil, the exiled playmaker who cannot even make the substitutes’ bench.
For months to come, the mention of Palace will conjure up images of video assistant referee reviews and missed opportunities in Emery’s mind. He now has a major problem to solve with Xhaka, and he made clear afterwards that he also has a major problem with the video technology after his side were denied a late winner that would have gone some way towards rebuilding the atmosphere around the club.
All this is before Emery even considers the way his team surrendered a two-goal lead, seized after just nine minutes, and allowed Palace to turn this match into the unruly scrap they wanted.
And still there were more subplots. Wilfried Zaha was in typically mischievous mood as he came up against the side who had tried to buy him this summer. He wound up the home fans, cupping his ear and smirking at them in the first half, then wound up the Arsenal defence by winning the penalty kick – via a VAR review – that triggered the Palace comeback.
Palace had their own complaints with the referee, with Roy Hodgson saying later that Arsenal’s second goal, prodded home by David Luiz, should have been disallowed because of a push in the build-up. Hodgson also thought that Matteo Guendouzi, the Arsenal midfielder, could have been sent off for a rugby tackle on Zaha that would not have looked out of place in the weekend’s World Cup semi-finals.
In all, it was one of the most breathless encounters of the season. By the final whistle, it felt as if
Arsenal’s opener had been scored in a different lifetime. It came from a set-piece, with Palace failing to clear Nicolas Pepe’s delivery and allowing Sokratis to thump his effort through the mass of bodies.
David Luiz scored the second a few minutes later, prodding home after Alexandre Lacazette had flicked on from another Pepe delivery. It could even have been three within 12 minutes had Wayne Hennessey not dived low to save Lacazette’s shot.
In Zaha, though, Palace had a permanent threat. Calum Chambers had started the game well as he looked to keep the winger quiet, but the Arsenal right-back soon fell into the same trap as so many other defenders have against Zaha, dangling a leg and watching in anguish as the Palace forward fell over it.
For a brief moment, Chambers thought he had got away with the foul. Martin Atkinson, the referee, originally booked Zaha for diving until he was overruled by the VAR. Luka Milivojevic’s subsequent penalty was his fifth goal in six games against Arsenal.
Just like that, the Emirates crowd was engulfed by nerves. It would only get worse when James Mcarthur’s cross allowed Jordan Ayew to head in an equaliser after half-time.
From here the match lost all control. Arsenal were furious with both themselves and the referee, while the fans were so agitated that they soon turned their frustrations on to their own captain in those extraordinary few moments which will be forever scorched into Xhaka’s mind.
There was no way that Xhaka’s team-mates had not been affected by what happened, but they pushed on nonetheless. Sokratis thought he had made the key breakthrough, from another corner, before VAR intervened by spotting the slightest of fouls by Chambers on Milivojevic. Arsenal were stung and, at the other end, Zaha was within inches of a winner which, one suspects, may well have provoked the Emirates crowd into a full-on revolt.
Mischievous: Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha wound up Arsenal fans and team