Arsenal (1) 2 Crystal Palace (0) 2
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Monday, 18th October 2021. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Thomas Partey, Martin Ødegaard; Nicolas Pépé, Emile Smith-Rowe, Bukayo Saka; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Alexandre Lacazette, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding, Cédric Soares, Nuno Tavares, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Mohamed Elneny, Gabriel Martinelli.
Scorers: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (8 mins), AlexandreLacazette (90+5)
Yellow Cards: Bukayo Saka
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 55%
Referee: Mike Dean
Assistant Referees: Eddie Smart, Mark Scholes
Fourth Official: Simon Hooper
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Peter Bankes; AVAR Neil Davies
Great to see the players back after international duty, and no doubt the coaching staff will have spent the last few days assessing them and finding out if there are any injuries and concerns, major or minor; however, we do know that Gabriel Martinelli is a doubtful starter for tonight’s match with a minor muscle injury, whilst Granit Xhaka is a long-term absentee with knee ligament damage sustained in the North London derby back on 26th September. No doubt that our old club captain Patrick Vieira, who played 279 matches for Arsenal (and manager of Crystal Palace tonight) will surely receive a fabulous reception from the Emirates crowd, and rightly so as well; oh, how a player of his calibre is much needed in our team these days!
After the superb Emirates welcome for the legendary Patrick Vieira just before kick-off, the match started with Arsenal looking sharp and dominating proceedings. The visitors seemed to stand off us in the midfield areas, and after eight minutes, we scored the opening goal of the night when Martin Ødegaard’s overstruck corner flew over everyone, but we managed to keep possession somehow, then Nicolas Pépé’s brilliant strike was pushed away by goalkeeper Vicente Guaita, but thankfully Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang reacted quickly, and volleyed the ball into the net from an extremely tight angle. Inevitably, the goal fired us up to take control of the game, which we were well-equipped to do. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fell to the floor with an injury shortly afterwards, when he was clipped by a Palace defender in an off-the-ball incident, but after receiving some treatment he was able to continue playing. The visitors looked quite shaky, and we started to be comfortable both on and off the ball, and when Emile Smith-Rowe’s excellent low drive was nervously saved by the Palace goalkeeper, there was a confident air of expectation in the stadium. Although the visitors did finally have two shots on goal in rapid succession from Christian Benteke and Luka Milivojevic just before the half-hour mark, neither amounted to anything, and as the match started to settle down and plateau somewhat, we never truly felt threatened by the transpontine club at this juncture in the game. Ten minutes before the break, our defence was outfoxed by a clever move by Tyrick Mitchell out on the left flank, only for Odsonne Édouard to blast the ball over Aaron Ramsdale’s bar from ten yards or so. With a few minutes of the half remaining, Jordan Ayew was clipped by Bukayo Saka and referee Mike Dean immediately showed our man the game’s first yellow card, which was truly ridiculous. In injusry time, we looked like we started to let the visitors back into the match with one or two chances that were saved by Aaron Ramsdale, but thankfully Mike Dean blew his whistle to keep the score in our favour at half time.
For the second half, Albert Sambi Lokonga replaced the injured Bukayo Saka, which, after watching him limp off the pitch at the end of the first half after James McArthur’s hard tackle on him, was not really surprising; a precautionary substitution by Mikel Arteta, no doubt. Anyway, we were unlucky not to score just after the restart, when a superb Thomas Partey shot flew just past the Palace goalie’s upright; a couple of minutes later, disaster struck when Thomas Partey was caught in possession by Jordan Ayew just outside our penalty area, and the ball rolled onwards to Christian Benteke, who advanced, moved into space and placed a superb strike into the bottom corner past the outstretched arm of Aaron Ramsdale. Oh dear. Their goal appeared to inject some life into the match, with both sets of strikers showing urgency in front of goal. Aaron Ramsdale made a fabulous fingertip save from Jordan Ayew ten minutes after the restart, and incredibly, this led to a period of Palace resurgency, with Arsenal struggling to maintain possession. Our build-up play from the back was looking good, with Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu working extremely hard to feed the ball to the midfield gang, but the Palace players seemed to read our intentions and intercept our movements. With twenty-four minutes of the match remaining, Alexandre Lacazette replaced a tiring (and almost anonymous) Martin Ødegaard, and almost immeditely the shape of the team changed for the better. After a near miss by Alexandre Lacazette, the unthinkable happened. The visitors pressed us, and a basic mistake in midfield occurred when Albert Sambi Lokonga was robbed of the ball by Conor Gallagher, which meant that they counter-attacked swiftly. Conor Gallagher then found Michael Olise, who passed the ball to Odsonne Edouard, who subsequently thumped the ball into the back of the net off the underside of the bar. A couple of minutes later, Alexandre Lacazette was fouled just outside the visitor’s penalty area, but the subsequent free-kick from Nicolas Pépé was very poor. With ten minutes of the match remaining, Gabriel Martinelli replaced Thomas Partey, and his presence fired us up again. Kieran Tierney was desperately unlucky when he hit the bar from close range with four minutes of the match left; Nicolas Pépé had a penalty appeal denied, and it seemed the more we tried, the less likely were were to score. However, in the four minutes of injury time, more drama occurred, when our relentless recent pressure finally paid off. At literally, the end of the match, a corner was half cleared, but the ball was sent back into the penalty area. The visitors couldn’t clear, the ball was flying around like a pinball, goalkeeper Vicente Guaita knocked away a shot but Alexandre Lacazette was there to slam in the rebound from close range. A draw, and thank heavens for that.
The good things that arose from this match tonight, is that we have extended our unbeaten run to six matches, with our last defeat being the game against Manchester City on 28th August; we are still the youngest side in the Premiership and our players have a long way to go. But the flip side of this was, basically, one nil up, two-one down, very quickly in fact. We took the lead, looked strong, then went marshmallow very quickly. We got caught on the break too many times, and it was sheer perseverance and good old fashioned guts and hard work that got us the draw, and thank heavens that we did, too. The late, late show may well be good entertainment for the neutrals, but for the rest of us, it is truly agonising. We have got to learn to be horribly mean in defence, and utterly ruthless in attack, otherwise all of our hard work will be in vain. Although it was two points dropped, at least we got a point after some decidedly iffy moments, and tonight we are twelfth in the Premiership, which is ridiculous for a club of our stature. How will it change? And more to the point, when? And where does the problem really lie, with the players, or the system decreed by the manager?
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Aston Villa at the Emirates on Friday, 22nd October at 8.00pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.