Crystal Palace ended Arsenal’s winning run, thanks to two penalties and no end of effort at Selhurst Park.
The Eagles were much the better side for the game, but were on the verge of losing the game, but Luka Milovojevic’s second penalty of the game earned the home side a share of the spoils, and it meant Unai Emery missed out on his 12th consecutive win.
Arsenal again went with Granit Xhaka on the left of defence, with Sead Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal both still short of match fitness. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was named with Alexandre Lacazette in an attack minded lineup, with Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira in the centre of the park.
Palace started of brightly, and inevitably, it was Wilfried Zaha who was the catalyst of everything positive. He was ably assisted by some willing runners, Chiekh Kouyate and Andros Townsend coming down the flanks to stretch us.
It was Zaha who created the first opportunity too, his low shot found the bottom of the post with Leno beaten. We heeded the warning and we roused from our slumber, playing better than we have done in the first half for some time, but crucially, no clear-cut chances.
Townsend then really should have put his side one-nil up, but his eight yard shot went wide, and this woke up the home crowd, who are normally much louder but were being outsung by our faithful away fans.
Then, we had our first chance on the 23rd minute. Iwobi dislodged Milovojevic from the ball and the loose ball fell to Lacazette just outside the box and in a central area, but the French striker was on the stretch and he screwed it just wide.
A minute later, an even better chance, as Ozil found Bellerin, but the Spaniard dallied when in the box and the shot was blocked. Much better, but still lacking the opening goal.
This was a real ding-dong affair, with our midfield giving as good as they got, with some impressive workrates from Torreira, Guendouzi, Laca and Iwobi all tracking back effectively.
It looked like it would be a goalless first half, but on the stroke of half time, Kouyate was taken down by Mustafi. Referee Martin Atkinson didn’t delay in calling a spot kick, although it was a soft one. Milovojevic didn’t hesitate either, sending Leno the wrong way.
That was half time, and Palace had the wind in their sails, but we always improve in the second half, and this was again the case.
Five minutes after the match restarted, we had pulled equal. A free kick was conceded on the corner of the box and Xhaka stepped up to ping a delightful arrow into the far top corner, with Hennessey getting a touch but not enough to keep it out. It was a wonderful effort.
Five minutes later, we were ahead. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was at the far post to knock in a flick on - from Lacazette’s hand no less - and the ball was just over the line before it was cleared. VAR wasn’t needed as the goal was given, but it was apparently 9mm over the line!
We had the lead, and this was when we had been kicking on in the last few games - but Palace had other ideas. Substitutes Max Meyer and Alexandr Sorloth were effective in keeping us penned in, and had chances to equalise.
In fact, from the moment we went ahead, Palace dominated. We defended gamely, credit where it’s due to Mustafi, Holding and their cohorts, but we were living dangerously. We simply couldn’t get out of our half. One of the reasons was because our link man, Ozil, had come off, replaced by Welbeck. We had no one to ensure defence, midfield and attack were linked together.
Hodgson had brought on the right men at the right time, and the home fans, so quiet for large periods, were finding their voice as they smelled an opportunity.
And they did get that chance too. It was that man Zaha again, as his stepovers sold Xhaka, and the Swiss man stuck out a leg in the box. It was all the invitation Zaha needed, and he vaulted over the outstretched limb. Replays suggest there was contact, but since when did contact mean spot-kick?
Even so, we had gotten lucky with ou second goal, and perhaps this was karma evening itself out. Besides, Palace had fired ten more shots than us in the game. We didn’t kill the game off when we went ahead, and Milovojevic compounded our regret with his second penalty, firing past Leno, who went the right way but couldn’t keep it out.
The game ended soon after, and we could have been going back to Colney with a defeat. Instead, we had battled for a point, and of course we are disappointed with the result, but on the face of things, a point was perhaps the fairest of results.
We march on, and we now have Liverpool this coming weekend. Do we shuffle our defence, given they’ll be facing Salah, Mane and Firmino? Or do we continue with what we have?
Emery has some videos to watch and decisions to make.