Bad week for Arsenal.
Top four looks a long way on this showing. Emery has to sort out Xhaka who insulted and goaded the crowd after he was substituted and for that matter Ozil who the fans sang for when creativity was drying up mid-way through the second half.
Gifted a two goal start in the first ten – 80 minutes was a long time for this defence lacking solid midfield cover and a consistent press.
At kick off this was a tasty test. The Ivory Coast battle of Zaha v Pepe; and the ex-Chelsea back battle of Luiz v Cahill. Had Arsenal learnt the lessons of last year’s 2-3 defeat?
After Palace’s last visit to the Emirates Emery said his team couldn’t handle Zaha – hence the interest in him in the summer. Although Emery says buying Pepe was the right decision – Zaha was the better footballer on the day. Although more individualistic, the Arsenal defence had difficulty all match long handling his close control and hard running. And it was his run into the Arsenal area which opened up the possibility of a draw with the penalty.
Pepe was a different player from last weekend showing more aggression and confidence evidenced at the end of the half when he executed a sharp one-two with Aubameyang firing a snap-shot which flashed just wide of the post. He is more direct than his compatriot, but on this showing less of a danger.
McArthur tested Leno with a header in the first five. Tierney was getting warm applause on his Premiership debut with some neat tidying up.
A Pepe corner was partially cleared by Hennessey, helped on by Cahill, but Xhaka nodded it to Sokratis who waited calmly for the dropping ball before a bouncing a volley into the net.
Soon after, another Pepe corner was flicked on by Lacazette to an unmarked Luiz (better than Cahill in this game) who swept it home.
On 13, Guendouzi broke from his own area and sent a long looping ball for Aubameyang’s run – but the drive went wide.
Tierney ran to the byline and cut it back for Lacazette to swivel and shot bringing a fine save low down by Hennessey. Already the accuracy of Tierney’s crosses were making a difference.
Half-way through the half, Palace were getting over the shock of conceding two goals in quick succession and their experienced midfield were gaining a grip. Cue Wilfred Zaha and a run on the left into the area and Calum Chambers stuck out a leg. Ref Martin Atkinson immediately brandished a yellow card, but VAR reviewed it and it was overturned. Milivojevic, who is making a habit of scoring against Arsenal, fired home from the spot.
Palace seemed invigorated by Croydon geezer Roy Hodgson’s half-time team talk. And won three fouls in the Arsenal half in quick succession – all hit long and diagonal into the penalty box.
Van Aanholt started an attack on the left, feeding it to Zaha who set McArthur away. Beating Xhaka with ease, he floated it over Luiz for Ayew to nod home.
The Palace fans let off a flare and foggy smoke clouds spread over the Arsenal goal.
Emery decided to take captain Xhaka off – to Arsenal fans’ cheers (worrying for Arsenal’s team spirit going forward. Isn’t the captain a conduit between the team and the fans?) but his slow walk indicated more interest in self than the team, and cheers turned to boos as he cupped his ears, sarcastically raised his arms for more noise and walked straight down the tunnel removing his shirt.
Pepe had a free kick as Ceballos was man-handled. Could lightning strike three times in as many days? It went over the bar.
As the pressure mounted for Arsenal’s third, and as attacks foundered on Palace’s experienced back line, the crowd broke into: “We’ve got Ozil; We’ve got Ozil.” Uncomfortable for Emery and one up for the player determined to play the long game, and in danger of becoming a growing thorn in the Spaniard’s side.
From another Pepe corner Chambers tangled with Milivojevic and the ball fell to Sokratis who fired home. The celebrations were halted by current football-killer VAR, which disallowed the goal.
Later we heard that a statement said it was a subjective decision that Chambers fouled Milivojevic which meant he couldn’t clear the ball. The tangle was inconclusive at best.
VAR is killing the Premiership as a live spectator sport and attendances will decline unless some action is taken. The gap for decisions is far too long – and most of the crowd have no idea what is being decided on. Mysterious and distant – there isn’t a focus for the bad feeling it can generate, and the negative atmosphere it engenders can easily spread. There will be doubts over every major incident. Fans are better off watching TV if they want to know what is going on.
After the game Emery said that Xhaka was wrong to show the attitude he did and that there will be words with him inside the club.
Arsenal: Leno, Chambers (Booked at 51), Papastathopoulos, David Luiz, Tierney (Substituted for Kolasinac at 75), Pépé, Guendouzi (Booked at 90mins), Xhaka (Substituted for Saka at 61), Ceballos, Aubameyang, Lacazette
Crystal Palace: Hennessey, Ward, Tomkins, Cahill, van Aanholt, Townsend Kouyaté (Substituted for McCarthy at 90+4), Milivojevic, McArthur, Zaha, J Ayew (Substituted for Benteke at 81)