It started so well. Arsenal were two up on visiting Crystal Palace before the match was 10 minutes old with goals from Sokratis and David Luiz from wonderfully taken Nicolas Pépé corners. The Gunners were zipping the ball around the pitch and attacking with menace.
Then it all went wrong. By 20 minutes in, Arsenal had turned back into a pumpkin.
You could sense that a Crystal Palace goal was coming, and when it did, it came in typical Arsenal fashion. Wilfried Zaha went around Calum Chambers. Chambers left a leg out. Zaha went over. Penalty (eventually) to Palace.
It just had to be Arsenal that had the first VAR-overturned call for a penalty award, didn’t it? Referee Martin Atkinson had initially booked Zaha for diving, but the review correctly awarded the penalty. It’s somewhat annoying that it took 9 weeks of football and countless other calls not being overturned to reach this point, but to be clear: VAR got it right. It just sucks that VAR finally came good against Arsenal.
When the two sides came back out for the second half, it was more of the same for Arsenal. The defense was poor and the attack looked disjointed. Crystal Palace looked the more likely side to score, and 7 minutes into the half they did just that.
Jordan Ayew nodded home a Wilfried Zaha cross on a move that was far too easy for the visitors. Instead of defending Zaha, Granit Xhaka did his best training dummy impression and provided next to no resistance on the cross coming in. Not to be out done, both Sokratis and David Luiz were in the area “defending” Ayew, but somehow he managed to find yards of space for a free header. Arsenal consistently concede shockingly simple goals.
After Palace equalized, things turned nasty at the Emirates. No, not on the pitch. In the stands. Granit Xhaka’s substitution was cheered by the supporters. He responded by slowing to a walk to leave the pitch, gesticulating at the fans, and doing an “I can’t hear you” over his ears when the fans started booing. You could clearly read his lips as he told the supporters to “f*#@ off” as he went down the tunnel, took off his kit, and threw it in disgust. Not a good look all the way around — fans or Xhaka.
In what has become regular practice, the supporters were singing Mesut Özil’s name and song for much of the second half. Things have gotten so rough at the Emirates that Özil has turned from regular scapegoat to a symbol of the resistance to the manager.
I really think Mesut Özil, whatever defensive limitations he may have, would improve this Arsenal team. The Gunners have no ball progression or attacking impetus through the middle of the pitch — he provides that. It’s also not as if his replacement, Dani Ceballos, is covering himself in glory. Other than misplacing multiple simple passes, the young Spaniard had an anonymous game.
The Gunners looked to have gone ahead late when Sokratis fired home off another post-corner scramble in the box, but the goal was taken off the board by VAR. Apparently Calum Chambers, who was tangled up and scrapping for a loose ball with three Palace defenders, fouled one of them. The announcers did not agree with the VAR decision.
It ended 2-2. Arsenal have led 2-0 twice this season. Both times the match ended in a draw.
Arsenal now have just 6 wins in the last 17 Premier League matches. That’s a 51 point pace over a full season, a total that would have nestled Arsenal into 11th place last season, between West Ham and Watford. The atmosphere surrounding the club has gone from dark clouds swirling to completely toxic. It’s time.