Arsenal (2) 2 Crystal Palace (1) 2
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Sunday, 27th October 2019. Kick-off time: 4.30pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Calum Chambers, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, David Luiz, Kieran Tierney; Mattéo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka; Nicolas Pépé, Dani Ceballos, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Hector Bellerin, Lucas Torreira, Rob Holding, Emiliano Martínez; Sead Kolašinac, Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka.
Scorers: Sokratis Papastathopoulos (7 mins), David Luiz (9 mins)
Yellow Cards: Calum Chambers, Mattéo Guendouzi
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 57%
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Today will be the litmus test for us; after Thursday’s late, late show in the Europa League that saw us victorious against Vitoria SC, we needed a good performance (and a great win too) in the Premier League to bolster our confidence. Maybe our questions were answered as early as the seventh minute in this London derby when Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a quick pass from Granit Xhaka (via a Nicolas Pépé corner) in the Palace penalty area; his trusty right foot made no mistake in placing the ball into the lower right hand corner of the net. If this wasn’t enough excitement for the discerning Emirates crowd, five minutes later, again from a corner, Alexandre Lacazette slotted the ball to the much maligned David Luiz who wasted no time in whacking the ball into the top left corner of the net for our second goal at close range within fifteen minutes of the start!
Over the next ten minutes or so, as to be expected, our goalscoring chances were abundant. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was desperately unlucky not to score a third, as was Kieran Tierney, on his Premiership debut, with a fierce shot from a corner that went extremely close indeed. As these things happen, the game slowed down from the frentic, exciting beginning that we had happily witnessed. Just after the half hour, as is always the way, controversy became the norm again. Calum Chambers clumsily fouled Wilfried Zaha within our penalty area, and as is de rigueur this season in these heart-stopping circumstances, the technological eye known as VAR was called into the decision-making process for referee Martin Atkinson to help make his on-field decree. Yes, the penalty was given, and Luka Milivojevic got one back for the visitors.
Obviously the goal buoyed the visitors and they came back into the match and got close to an equaliser on a couple of occasions; but also, to be fair, we matched them toe-to-toe and got back into the game, rather brightly and keenly it has to be said. In the closing stages of the first half, we organised ourselves well, and the home advantage worked well in our favour. On the stroke of half-time, Nicolas Pépé hit the post with a match-winning shot from inside the Palace penalty area from a ball that was truly gifted to him by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The whistle blew soon afterwards, and we went into half-time on the ascendancy.
So what happened in the half-time break? Did someone have an argument or something? Whatever it was, it became apparent quite quickly that Arsenal did not look the same team as they were previously. Seven minutes after the break, our questions were answered when James McArthur managed to shake off Granit Xhaka on the left, thus placing a cross deep into the Arsenal penalty area for Jordan Ayew to equalise. Shortly afterwards, Granit Xhaka was substituted for Bukayo Saka, at which point the Arsenal crowd showed their extreme displeasure at him when he was walking off the pitch; it didn’t make things better when he merely put a cupped hand to his ear is an act of defiance, along with a mouthful of abuse. Worse was to follow. After twenty minutes or so of midfield sparring (as well as Sead Kolašinac replacing the fatigued Kieran Tierney with fifteen minutes of the match remaining in the meantime) a perfectly good enough Sokratis Papastathopoulos goal was ruled out by (yes, you guessed it) the obligatory VAR review; after all the confusion, the upshot of it all was that this decision cost us the match, ultimately. How can it be? Whatever reason it was, barring a bizarre tackle by Mattéo Guendouzi literally at the end of the game that saw him being booked for his trouble by Martin Atkinson, that was that, really.
Forget the VAR controversies, the Granit Xhaka incident, and the indifferent performance by the referee; the up and down of it all was that this was yet another unsatisfactory day at the office for us. We just went to pieces at times in the second half, and all this after the fantastic start that we had as well! Does anyone teach this team game management? Where are the alpha male leaders? And more to the point, where on earth is Mesut Özil these days? Worryingly, not only are we fifth in the Premiership, but there is now a five point gap that has opened up between Chelsea and ourselves. Somebody at this club needs to get a grip, and quickly. Time is of the essence. 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: Liverpool at Anfield on Wednesday, 30th October at 7.30pm (Carabao Cup). 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.