VAR denies Arsenal a late winner as Palace storm back to take a point

Arsenal skipper Granit Xhaka booed and walks straight down the tunnel after being replaced

Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka reacts after being substituted in the Premier league game against Crystal Palace at the  Emirates Stadium. Photograph: Tony O’Brien/Action Images via Reuters

Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka reacts after being substituted in the Premier league game against Crystal Palace at the Emirates Stadium. Photograph: Tony O’Brien/Action Images via Reuters

 

Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 2

Arsenal’s taste for last-gasp luck had to be dulled eventually but, despite yet another turbulent, chaotic and at times unpleasant afternoon, they will wonder why they did not beat Crystal Palace.

That is not because they merited three points; they rapidly went two goals up through Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz before reverting to their very worst selves and throwing it all away. But they are entitled to ask why an apparent winner from Sokratis seven minutes from time was disallowed after a lengthy VAR review with no explanation offered to anyone in the stadium, replays later showing a possible stray arm from Calum Chambers but nothing fitting a definition of clear and obvious.

Football needs to sort this out quickly; Arsenal, though, need to sort themselves out too and the prevailing mood was summed up when Granit Xhaka received abuse when he was substituted during the second half, responding in a way that surely asks questions of his future in Unai Emery’s team.

Nobody should have been surprised at the denouement. Arsenal’s games have prioritised chaos above symmetry and the way they streaked ahead was somewhat novel. On Thursday night, two free-kicks from Nicolas Pépé in the final 10 minutes sealed an exhilarating turnaround against Vitória Guimarães; by the time the first nine had elapsed here, he had stood over another couple of set-pieces and, directly or not, left the home side exuding uncharacteristic comfort.

The ultimate plaudits went elsewhere this time, and the execution was far scruffier. Not that anyone minded when Sokratis, taking advantage of loose defending from Pépé’s right-sided corner, volleyed inside Wayne Hennessey’s near post from close range. The goal owed plenty to Xhaka, who initially challenged the Palace goalkeeper for the cross and then, after Gary Cahill could only half-clear back towards him, showed composure to nod a cushioned header to the open Sokratis on his right.

Almost straight from the restart, Arsenal did it all again. The second time around, Pépé whipped a flatter delivery that Alexandre Lacazette – creating half a yard by nudging James McArthur – flicked on at the near post. Luiz, who had converted another Pépé corner to defeat Bournemouth three weeks ago, showed a forward’s instinct to help the ball in.

Crystal Palace’s Jordan Ayew scores his side’s second goal during the Premier League match against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. Photograph: Nigel French/PA Wire
Crystal Palace’s Jordan Ayew scores his side’s second goal during the Premier League match against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. Photograph: Nigel French/PA Wire

So far, so straightforward. Hennessey prevented an instant third by getting down smartly when Kieran Tierney crossed and Lacazette cracked a low effort towards the corner. It was an excellent save and kept the game alive in ways that, at that point, were inconceivable even by Arsenal’s standards.

By the half-hour, Palace had offered nothing and the Emirates was serene. But it was unthinkable that Wilfried Zaha would go quietly. In a parallel universe he, not his Ivory Coast teammate Pépé, moved here this summer.

Eventually he embarked upon one of the runs that made him such a tempting option, skipping around the outside of Chambers before going to ground in the box. Martin Atkinson booked him for diving but the incident looked deeply susceptible to review. VAR duly showed that, even if Zaha had hardly made best endeavours to stay on his feet, the defender’s right leg had made contact. The yellow card was rescinded and Luka Milivojevic drilled in the penalty.

Now the familiar nerves were back in force and, although Pépé shot wide after quick thinking from Xhaka, Arsenal were thankful that Bernd Leno beat away Patrick van Aanholt’s drive before half-time. The scoreline, at this point, should not even have been close.

But Arsenal’s generosity in making things interesting knows no bounds. After half-time they forgot to play, instead getting sucked into the kind of niggly, antsy scrap that would always give Palace a chance.

They conceded a string of soft free-kicks and then, perhaps aggrieved at not winning one of their own when Pépé went down near halfway, switched off. Xhaka offered minimal resistance to McArthur’s advance down the left and failed to stop a chipped cross that drifted beyond Luiz for Jordan Ayew, craning his neck at the far post, to convert on the run.

Palace had dug in and deserved their equaliser. They had succeeded in sending the home crowd into apoplexy, which manifested itself unpleasantly when Xhaka was replaced by Bukayo Saka. The Arsenal captain was sent on his way with a crescendo of boos and jeers, cupping his ears to the stands as he departed and, walking straight down the tunnel.

It was poor behaviour from all parties and it is hard to see how Xhaka’s relationship with the fanbase heals from here.

Lacazette struck the outside of an upright from a tight angle but then, from Pépé’s latest corner, Sokratis converted another loose ball and this weekend’s salvage act seemed to have come off. Instead it was overturned and, after a basketball-like final few minutes, the Palace supporters were the only people to depart feeling content.– Guardian

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