As the old adage goes, all good things must come to an end, and Arsenal’s 11 match winning streak saw it’s end after a particularly controversial and frustrating performance from the Gunners at Selhurst Park.
Unai Emery’s starting lineup seemed particularly attack-minded, as both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette started alongside Alex Iwobi and Mesut Ozil. As with the last two matches, Granit Xhaka, who conspired to play both hero and villain on the day, started at left back as both Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac continued to be sidelined with hamstring injuries. With Xhaka displaced, Matteo Guendouzi lined up in the pivot alongside Lucas Torreira. The center back positions once again featured the pairing of Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi, while Hector Bellerin stared at right back.
Wearing their teal third kits for the first time all season, Arsenal kept their season-long tradition of starting the first half slowly, as they allowed their opponents to try to dictate the pace of the match out of the gate. In the 16th minute, the games first chance fell to Wilfried Zaha after a Crystal Palace cross skipped uncontested across the box to the unmarked attacker. Bernd Leno was caught in the middle of the net, but the ensuing shot caromed off the post. Less than a minute later, Palace had another opportunity after a very Arsenal-like build up, but the finish was wide of the post.
the 22nd minute saw Arsenal’s first meaningful chance. Alexandre Lacazette did well to dispossess Zaha outside of Crystal Palace’s box, but his left-footed effort went wide of the goal. Two minutes later, Hector Bellerin had Arsenal’s best scoring chance of the first half, as Ozil dribbled the goal line and found the Spaniard at the penalty spot unmarked. Unable to control the ball with his first touch, Palace threw two defenders in front of the shot, which deflected out for a corner. An attacker in that position most likely buries that shot, but Arsenal were unfortunate in that regard.
In the 40th minute, Crystal Palace thought they had earned a penalty after Jordan Ayew threw himself to the ground after a challenge from Shkodran Mustafi. While the ref saw through Ayew’s antics, it wasn’t long before Mustafi gave head referee Martin Atkinson a clear-cut decision, as he recklessly dove at a loose ball in the box off of a Palace corner in the 45th minute, cutting down Cheikhou Kouyate from behind.
Arsenal were livid about this, not just because of the penalty, but because the corner that lead to the goal probably should not have been allowed. The corner was deemed to have come off of defender Rob Holding, but he protested, to no avail, that the Palace attacker he was guarding had pulled his jersey, which was clearly ripped. The missed infraction would have given Arsenal a free kick in their own end to finish the half, but instead they shot themselves in the foot with sloppy, undisciplined play.
Crystal Palace, who had struggled to score at home through their first five home matches of the season, did not struggle on this chance, as Luka Milivojevic converted the penalty with ease after Bernd Leno’s dive went opposite of the Palace attacker’s shot.
For the seventh straight match, Arsenal found themselves heading into halftime without a lead on their opposition as the half ended with Arsenal down 1-0 to the hosts.
Before the second half kicked off, Emery made his first change to the lineup, as Hector Bellerin was supplanted for Stephan Lichsteiner at right back. Whether or not the sub was due to an injury or simply tactical reasons is not known yet, but Arsenal were without any of their starting fullbacks entering the second half.
True to Arsenal’s form this season, the second half saw a resurgence from the attack. In the 52nd minute, Lucas Torreira drew a rash foul just outside the far right side of the Crystal Palace box. Granit Xhaka, whose free kick prowess is growing more noticeable with every match, sent an absolute rocket into the top left of the goal as Wayne Hennessy’s attempt to stop the shot was in vain.
Xhaka with an absolutely stunning free-kick to equalise against Crystal Palace. 1-1 pic.twitter.com/8xwHsv06E9— Terje (@TerjeMediax) October 28, 2018
In the 56th minute, controversy continued as an Arsenal corner kick appeared to glance off of Lacazette’s hand before Aubameyang poked the ball just over the goal line. Despite the obvious handball on the replay, neither the field referee nor the linesman spotted the infraction as it occurred, much to the outrage of the Crystal Palace players and fans.
Aubameyang puts Arsenal in front against Crystal Palace. 2-1 pic.twitter.com/mYtsD30mJU— Terje (@TerjeMediax) October 28, 2018
The controversy continued as Crystal Palace defenders were furious with the Martin Atkinson’s decision to award the goal, as they were convinced that the ball had never fully crossed the goal line. However, the goal line field technology determined that the ball had crossed over the line by
an entire Alexis Sanchez 9 millimeters, and Arsenal had once again taken the lead in the second half.
Much to Crystal Palace’s credit, they did not deflate after giving up the goal. Instead, they marched down field and threw a flurry of chances at Arsenal, this time leaning on second-half sub Max Meyer for a majority of their chances. The young German quickly made an impact, as he and Zaha linked up on the left flank to threaten Arsenal’s defense. After controlling the ball well in the box, Zaha found Meyer in the six yard box, but his quick turn-and-shoot skied over the bar.
With a lead in hand, Arsenal looked to finish off the match as the second half wore down. However, what ensued was a series of puzzling decisions that altered the match, the first of which was the substitution of Danny Welbeck for Mesut Ozil in the 68th minute. The German, who had a match to forget, was clearly upset by the substitution, as he was spotted throwing his gloves to the ground in frustration as he entered the dugout.
Özil not happy about coming off... pic.twitter.com/fRxfa4y6v0— Terje (@TerjeMediax) October 28, 2018
Shifting to a 4-2-2, Arsenal looked content to sit deep and wait to launch a counterattack. Unfortunately, Arsenal’s attackers looked out of sorts throughout the entire match. Several counterattacking opportunities were dead on arrival as the attackers could not seem to find themselves on the same page. Lacazette in particular looked very sloppy and wasteful in the second half, while Danny Welbeck’s physical runs often ended in a bad pass or miscommunication with the rest of the attackers.
Lacazette’s poor day ended in the 78th minute when he was subbed off for Aaron Ramsey.
In the 82nd minute, Granit Xhaka reminded everyone of his defensive liability as he clumsily lunged in at Zaha in the box, awarding Crystal Palace their second penalty of the match. While Zaha made a meal of the challenge, Xhaka’s poor challenge made the decision an easy one for the referee.
Once more it was Luka Milivojevic stepping up the spot, and while Bernd Leno guessed correctly on his dive, he came up just short on the shot. Crystal Palace equalized in a match that they certainly did not deserve to be losing.
Following the penalty was a series of minimal opportunities for both sides, with Arsenal’s only threatening chance coming from a long ball from Xhaka into he box for Aaron Ramsey, whose attempted header just barely missed the ball.
After four minutes of stoppage time, Atkinson blew the whistle, and Arsenal’s streak of 11 straight victories came to an end with a 2-2 draw.
This was a match that Arsenal did not deserve to win, but one that they certainly could have. Two boneheaded mistakes in the box lead to two easy goals for Palace, but Arsenal will certainly acknowledge that they did themselves no favors, as very few players looked up for the match. Although they are still unbeaten through 12, Emery and co will regret not coming away from this matchup with all three points as the race for a top four spot continues to be a tight one.
Up next in the league is a massive matchup with Liverpool, who look to challenge Manchester City for the title. Arsenal will need to shake off the poor display today and get their heads right for a highly important top four matchup, lest they find themselves with a similar result as their first match against Liverpool last season.