Result: Crystal Palace 1-1 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 11 January 2019
Venue: Selhurst Park
Starting XI: Leno, Maitland-Niles, David Luiz, Sokratis, Kolasinac, Torreira, Xhaka, Ozil, Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Subs: Martinez, Holding, Guendouzi, Willock, Nelson, Saka, Martinelli
Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang scored and was sent off as Arsenal squandered a first half advantage to draw 1-1 with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
The Gabon international polished off a neat move on 12 minutes to reward our early dominance but the home side slowly worked their way back into the game and equalised through Jordan Ayew’s deflected shot not long after the break.
The Gunners had to play the final 23 minutes with ten men when VAR upgraded an initial yellow card to red for an Aubameyang foul on Max Meyer. In the closing stages, Sokratis made a goal-line clearance and Pepe hit the post but neither side could find a winner.
Having rung the changes for the FA Cup clash with Leeds United, Mikel Arteta reverted to the starting lineup that so impressed in the first half against Manchester United on New Year’s Day. Despite his goal-scoring contribution on Monday, and suggestions his work-rate might be better suited to combating Wilfried Zaha, Reiss Nelson had to make do with a place on the bench. Pepe joined Laca and Auba up front. The average age of our subs was 21.
Arsenal started the game with real intent, winning a corner inside the opening minute and then penning in the home side after that with crisp, incisive passing. In contrast, the home side seemed passive and very happy to let us have the ball. It certainly worked to our advantage.
Despite the very windy conditions, Luiz, like an American Football quarterback, repeatedly sprayed passes out to the flanks. Kolasinac and Aubameyang, operating on the left, were the beneficiaries of the tactic, often collecting the ball in space and then darting inwards towards goal.
If there was a criticism, we were perhaps a little slow in our build-up play. That was until the 13th minute, when a Luiz fizzed a ball to Ozil who in turn flicked the ball to Lacazette. The Frenchman took a touch to get the ball out of his feet and slipped in Auba who took one touch and calmly tucked home. We made 18 passes in the build-up. (1-0)
Pepe’s quick feet worked space for a chance to double the lead but a final heavy touch, despite flooring Cahill, allowed keeper Guaita to gather.
Torreira took out the Ivorian, who’d been given a dirty little nudge by compatriot Zaha, trying to win a header on the edge of our box. Both players required treatment. When play restarted, the home side wanted the Uruguayan to return the drop ball to the home side. He was under no instruction to do so from the ref and chose to keep it. That sparked an angry reaction from the Selhurst Park regulars, who’d been muted up to that point. The home side reacted to the noise and upped the pressure.
By and large, we were comfortable in defence although Kouyate did wriggle through a couple of challenges to curl an effort that Leno caught at the second time of asking. In the closing moments of the half Kolasinac also produced a fine bit of defending to ward off Ayew at the back post.
Mikel Arteta was forced into a switch at the break with Matteo Guendouzi replacing Lucas Torreira who must have picked up a knock. The game was scrappy, but there was no doubting that Palace had the better of things. We couldn’t really string any passes together and resorted to more niggly fouls.
It was from a free-kick on 54 minutes that the home side equalised. As the Gunners set-up to defend a lofted ball into the box, the Eagles instead worked it to the right and from there fashioned a cross to Kouyate who played in Ayew. The Ghanaian got off a shot that took a huge deflection off David Luiz and looped over Leno. It wasn’t pretty but Selhurst Park didn’t care. (1-1)
Things went from bad to worse 10 minutes later when Aubameyang made contact with the ankle of Max Meyer right on the touchline. Referee Tierney initially dished out a yellow card but after a three minute VAR review, he upgraded to a red. There’s no doubting it was a poor challenge from our captain but it still seemed harsh given how innocuous the incident had looked in real-time. Meyer, after treatment, was substituted by Roy Hodgson. Arteta reacted by removing the ineffective Ozil and sending on the energy of Martinelli.
Unsurprisingly, the home side looked the more likely to grab a winner in the closing stages and were it not for a goal-line stop by Sokratis, Tomkins might have put them ahead on 77 minutes. The Greek did just enough to scramble the ball away with Leno stranded.
We rallied. With eight minutes remaining, Martinelli crossed for Lacazette who quickly fed Pepe to shoot low and hard across the keeper. The effort crashed off the post. Lacazette looked destined to tuck home the rebound but he couldn’t beat Guaita who pounced at his feet to claim the ball. Replays showed the Spanish keeper had actually made a great stop on both occasions.
Four minutes of stoppage time were nervy. Zaha went down in the box under pressure from Martinelli but even after a VAR check we were safe. At the other end, Pepe had a great chance to play in Xhaka but his pass was cut out.
Another draw, our 10th this season, doesn’t really help our quest to push up the league but at least we showed character after the red card. The big worry for Arteta is how we’ll cope without Aubameyang.