Sokratis 7, Luiz 9
CRYSTAL PALACE 2
Milivojevic 32 (p), Ayew 52
BY JAKE SANDERS AT THE EMIRATES
Crystal Palace taking a point away from the Emirates will come as a surprise to many, but should it really?
Since the beginning of the 2014/2015 campaign, the Eagles have collected 28 points in games away from home against top-six sides – which includes victories at all six besides Tottenham.
Impressive numbers for a team that have finished in the top-half just once – albeit in fewer games.
To put that into context, Spurs have notched up just half as many points in that period, whilst the Gunners have earned only 12.
Wilfried Zaha has been a pivotal figure in a large proportion of those results – this trip to north London would prove to be no different.
But Zaha’s game-changing contribution that swung the game Palace’s way came only after Roy Hodgson’s men had earlier pressed the self destructive button twice before the ten-minute mark. And it wasn’t as if the warning signs weren’t there. In Arsenal’s previous home game, David Luiz’s early winner against AFC Bournemouth came in the 9th minute.
The Eagles didn’t even last that long.
It took the Gunners just seven minutes to break Palace’s relitavely tame resistance. Nicolas Pepe’s corners would turn out to be Arsenal’s main source of threat throughout the afternoon – with this one whipped right into the danger zone, although Wayne Hennessey, who found himself in no-mans-land and Gary Cahill, who produced an extremely poor header, hardly helped the cause. Arsenal took full advantage after the ball arrived at the grateful feet of centre-back Sokratis, who coolly swept home through a crowded six-yard box.
Once is a mistake, two is a trend.
That’s exactly what Hodgson would have been saying to himself by the time Luiz was allowed to arrive unmarked to prod home from close-range to extend the Gunners advantage. The last time Palace found themselves two-goals down early on, they were hammered 4-0 at Spurs back in September.
Arsenal did threaten to run away with it. Their dynamic duo of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandra Lacazette both squandered good openings to get that all-important third goal, which somehow ended up escaping them for the rest of the afternoon.
But just before the half-hour mark, the game, and atmosphere completely turned in Palace’s favour.
Zaha, who’d been quiet up until then, skipped past Callum Chambers in the box and was cleared fouled by the Arsenal defender. However, much to the surprise of even the majority of home fans inside the Emirates, Martin Atkinson, after a long wait, gave a free-kick against Zaha, opting to book him, as oppose to pointing to the spot.
A VAR check was inevitable, and so was the awarding of the penalty that followed. Luckily for the Eagles, they have one of the most ruthless penalty takers in Premier League history in their ranks in the shape of Luka Milivojevic. His successful spot-kick here was his 21st in Palace colours, increasing his impressive score-percentage to 91.
Remarkably, only five players ever in the Premier League – Frank Lampard (32), Steven Gerrard (29), Sergio Aguero (26), Mark Noble (25) and Wayne Rooney (23) – have found the net more often from 12-yards than the Serbian midfielder. Four of which have come against Arsenal.
Palace were in the ascendancy and could feel the knife-edge atmosphere around the Emirates. And although the half-time whistle came at a bad time, their lightning start to the second period was rewarded after just seven minutes. Unsurprisingly, Zaha was heavily involved, slotting in James McArthur down the left and the former Scottish midfielder steadied himself before digging out an inviting cross for Jordan Ayew to head home from close-range.
However, all their hard work looked to have counted for nothing as Sokratis thumped home his second inside the last ten minutes. Fortunately for the visitors, VAR – who served them so well in their previous away match at West Ham – worked in their favour once more, chalking the goal off for a foul by Chambers on Milivojevic build-up and the Eagles survived an almighty scare.
And had Palace been slightly less careless in the closing stages, they could’ve have been celebrating their second victory on the bounce at Arsenal, but after their appalling start, no one in red and blue could bemoan with a point.
Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Hennessey 6, Ward 7, Cahill 6, Tomkins 6, Van Aanholt 7, Milivojevic 7, Kouyate 7 (McCarthy 90, 6), McArthur 7, Townsend 6, Zaha 8, Ayew 8 (Benteke 81, 6).
Not Used: Henderson, Dann, Kelly, Meyer, Schlupp.
PICTURES BY KEITH GILLARD