Crystal Palace 1 Arsenal 1
By Robert Sutherland
Crystal Palace secured a well-deserved point against 10th place, 10-man Arsenal thanks to a 54th minute equaliser from Jordan Ayew, in a hotly-contested and bruising encounter at Selhurst Park.
Ayew was helped by a wicked deflection when, on finding himself in the box with the ball at his feet following some excellent control by Cheikh Kouyate, he took a shot at goal which looped off David Luiz and over Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
It was a game in which, during the opening 20 minutes, looked as though Palace would do well to avoid a heavy defeat. The visitors had started the game with the same intensity that they’ve showed since the arrival of Mikel Arteta. But some tactical switches and a greater intent from Palace saw the Eagles gain a foothold in the game, one which could have resulted in a win for the hosts.
Arsenal had much of the possession and play early in the game and took the lead with some excellent, intricate play on the edge of the box. It culminated in a quick pass from Alexandre Lacazette to the feet of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who took a touch to get past Martin Kelly and calmly slot the ball past Vicente Guaita.
But with a tactical switch that saw Max Meyer move into the centre of the pitch and Kouyate take up the task of playing on the right, Palace cut off one of Arsenal’s major supply lines into their front three. And with that, the Eagles gained a greater influence on proceedings.
Palace had a chance not long after the Arsenal opener, when Kouyate found space in the box with some excellent footwork, only to fire a shot straight at Leno.
Roy Hodgson’s side took to the field in the second half looking to continue how they ended the first. Palace showed tenacity and matched Arsenal’s physicality impressively and levelled through Ayew, pictured celebrating, in the 54th minute.
The home side were given a helping hand by VAR when a poor tackle from Aubameyang on Meyer just above the ankle, initially given a yellow card, was reviewed by VAR and upgraded to a red for serious foul play. Despite continued protests from his team-mates, the Arsenal striker deserved the punishment. Palace fans had protested VAR in the first half with a banner decrying the controversial introduction, but without such an intervention a red card wouldn’t have been awarded.
The foul saw Meyer substituted for Cenk Tosun, the Everton striker making his debut following the completion of his six-month loan move on Friday.
Palace looked to push on for a winner and nearly got it in the 78th minute only for Sokratis to clear James Tomkins’s header off the line. There had been suggestions of a handball in the clearance that followed but replays showed it came off Ainsley Maitland-Nile’s shoulder.
Guaita ultimately saved the Eagles a point in the 83rd minutes when a combination of an excellent save and unquestionable bravery kept the visitors out. A Nicolas Pepe shot looked like it might have gone in had the Spanish keeper not made a finger-tip save. Instead it deflected off the post, rebounded into middle of the box where Guaita was once again alert to stop the ball at the feet of Lacazette.
Palace will be delighted with the point given the opening spell of the game, while Arsenal might feel that they should have been more clinical in attack.