If Meghan and Harry have taught us anything it’s that you don’t escape from the Palace unscathed.
And scathed we most certainly were: by VAR (again), by the “excessive force” rule, by an unlucky deflection (again), by injuries (again) and by erratic officiating (again).
Our 1-1 draw away at Crystal Palace was a mixed bag and will have given Mikel Arteta plenty to think about.
We started with the same 11 that started against Manchester United, with Torreira as the holding midfielder, Ozil behind the front three and Pepe out wide, and we picked up right where we’d left off against the Mancs.
We were terrific for half an hour, dominating play and possession and getting a deserved goal from Aubameyang after a lovely passing move. The final two touches, from Ozil and Lacazatte, were sublime and Auba stroked the ball into the corner of the net in Henryesque style.
But after 30 minutes the mood changed. You expect any Premier League team to have periods where it refuses to let you call all the shots (particularly when they’re the home team) and, sure enough, Palace came back at us hard.
I’m not sure whether it was something that clicked in the minds of the Palace players organically or whether there was an instruction from the bench, but our opponents suddenly turned into Wimbledon circa 1987.
(If you don’t remember the Wimbledon “Crazy Gang”, with such charming characters as Vinnie Jones, John Fashanu, Mick Harford and Dennis Wise, look at some old footage of probably the dirtiest and hardest team ever to play at the top flight. You’ll find the video in the Horror section. The only team that wasn’t intimidated by them was Tony Adams’s Arsenal – but that’s another story for another day).
The Palace players started throwing themselves into challenges, fouling us at every opportunity and, frankly, bullying us. The referee, Paul Tierney (sadly no relation), could have put a stop to it with a couple of yellow cards but he let most of the nastiness go. The noisy home fans were clearly intimidating him. Every time a Palace player went to ground after a mild coming together the fans would scream with outrage and the ref would dutifully award the free kick against Arsenal.
Whenever an Arsenal man stayed on the ground after yet another filthy tackle the crowd would burst into “same old Arsenal, always cheating” and the ref would mostly allow play to go on.
The result was that no yellow card was shown to a Palace man until the 71st minute, which was ridiculous.
Nevertheless we weathered the storm to half time without too much in the way of chances for Palace.
The bad news started when the team came out for the second half. Lucas Torreira, who has blossomed in the defensive midfield position since Arteta took over, did not take the field. He had been kicked from pillar to post in the first half and could not continue. At the time of writing I don’t know what his injury is but I hope it’s not serious.
Guendouzi replaced him but losing the Uruguayan affected our shape and balance, with Xhaka having to drop back into the more overtly holding role.
Palace continued to play dirty, the ref continued to let them and the game was not a great spectacle. Despite the fouls, we were holding our own but could not get any grip on possession. Ozil was mostly uninvolved and Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles were not getting forward as much as we would have liked.
Misfortune struck in the 54th minute. A Palace attack saw the ball fall to Jordan Ayew in the box. His shot took a huge deflection off Luiz and looped over Leno into the net.
It was disappointing and unlucky, but if I was an Eagles supporter I would probably feel my team deserved it if only for the amount of physical effort they were putting in.
As I’m not an Eagles supporter I think the dirty, cheating, scummy little toe-rags were lucky as hell and deserved nothing.
A little over 10 minutes later Aubameyang arrived late for a tackle on Palace midfielder Max Meyer and caught the German on the ankle. The referee brandished a yellow, but then the dread news emerged that the VAR official was checking the incident. Arsenal hearts sank throughout the land. Sure enough, with our VAR luck, the yellow was changed to a red and our captain was off.
There was an informative discussion on the blog after this incident. LBG pointed out that the recent rule about excessive force compelled the VAR official to interpret Auba’s challenge as worthy of a sending off.
If them’s the rules then them’s the rules, but to me the punishment is completely lacking in proportionality and common sense. Everyone in the game knows Aubameyang is not a dirty player. He was clearly going for the ball and just got it wrong. A red card and a likely three match ban for what was probably his only serious foul all season? Does that seem just? Not when Ayew could commit eight fouls (some of them really nasty) and not even pick up a yellow. (“I looked over Jordan, what did I see… a two-bob thug who shouldn’t have been on the pitch when he got his jammy goal…”).
The largely anonymous Ozil was replaced by Martinelli immediately afterwards. Arteta clearly did not think a 10 versus 11 battle against a dirty, physical team was the right forum for Ozil to shine and I can’t say I would disagree with him.
Funnily enough, after going down to 10 men we had a better spell and posed more of a threat to the Palace goal than we had since the opening half hour. Our best chance to nick it came from a nice move that concluded with Lacazette laying the ball off to Pepe, whose low left foot shot came back off the post and straight into the arms of Guaita, the Palace ‘keeper. Replays showed that Guaita got the tiniest of touches on Pepe’s shot, which otherwise would have gone in.
Nelson came on for Lacazette in the dying minutes, but the game petered out with Palace probably the happier of the two teams having come from behind to salvage a point.
- We maintained our shape well throughout the whole game (even when under intense pressure) and the doom mongers who are saying we reverted to an Emery like performance should bear that in mind.
- Our corners, delivered by Pepe, are looking really dangerous. Luiz was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet with a header from one of the four that we had and all of them caused alarm in the Palace defence.
- We’re continuing our unbeaten run under Mikel Arteta since the Chelsea game. [Thanks to Ray for pointing out my earlier error that we were unbeaten under MA. I had blanked the Chelsea defeat for some reason].
- There were signs that our confidence can still suffer when we’re forced on the back foot. We’re carrying mental scars from the last 18 months and they’ll take time to heal.
- Possibly (probably?) losing Aubameyang for three games.
- Ozil had one of those games, or at least he did after the first half hour. I wonder what Arteta will make of his performance?
No chance for the goal. The fact that he had little else to do shows that our system is working much better than under Emery (Palace had only three attempts on target).
Didn’t do a lot wrong and marshalled the tricky Zaha well. Might have got forward more.
Battling performance from the Greek Colossus.
Luiz 7 (MoTM)
Good game from Daviiiiid. Won a lot of balls in the air and was comfortable in possession. Unlucky not to get a goal.
Very good for the first 30, then was a bit more subdued as Palace came into the game. Took some pretty hefty fouls.
Looks so comfortable in his preferred position. Was mercilessly hacked by the Palace players and given no protection by a weak ref. Sad to lose him at half time. Would probably have been MoTM if he’d stayed on.
Forced back into the holding role in the second half. Kept the ball moving in midfield but not one of his better outings.
Was involved in some nice moves in the first 30 then drifted out of the game. We need more from him when the going gets tough.
Some good moments, some beautiful whipped-in corners and hit the post with a late effort. But lost the ball too easily too often. Plenty of room for improvement.
Tireless. Great assist for the goal. Would have had a second assist but for Pepe’s shot coming back off the post. Didn’t get any real chances to score himself and was booked for repeated fouling, which was laughable when you saw what the Palace players were getting away with.
Lovely finish for his goal. The tackle that saw him sent off was wild but hardly deserving of a red card and three match ban.
Plenty of running and energy, but he’s still raw and it shows at times.
Came on for the final 25 and definitely added something, as he usually does. Aubameyang’s suspension may give him some well-deserved opportunities to start.
Came on in injury time.