By Jake Sanders
Crystal Palace battled back from 2-0 down to earn a well-deserved point against a below-par Arsenal in a VAR-controversy game at the Emirates.
Both of the Gunners centre-backs struck inside the opening nine minutes to put Unai Emery’s men two goals to the good, but a VAR-overturned penalty from Luka Milivojevic saw the Eagles gain a foothold on 32 minutes before Jordan Ayew completed the comeback in the 52nd minute.
Arsenal thought they’d won in seven minutes from time when Sokratis thumped home what looked like being his second of the afternoon, but VAR once more came to Palace’s rescue, chalking off the goal for a Callum Chambers foul on Milivojevic, to ensure Roy Hodgson’s men returned to South London with a point and remain 6th in the Premier League table, just one point behind the Gunners.
All of that came after Palace after Palace had to recover from a terrible start. In just the 7th minute, Wayne Hennessey and Gary Cahill failed to deal with a Nicolas Pepe corner and Sokratis took advantage by lashing home through a crowded six-yard box to put Arsenal in front.
Two minutes later it went from bad to worse for the Eagles, who didn’t deal with another Pepe corner, and Alexandre Lacazette’s flick-on found Luiz, who was on hand to prod home his second goal as many Emirates games from close-range to double Arsenal’s lead.
On 13 minutes Kieran Tierney – on his Premier League debut – got down the left and picked out Lacazette, who controlled and volleyed towards the bottom-corner, but Hennessey got down well to make the save before Hodgson’s shell-shocked Palace cleared the danger.
The onslaught continued a minute later as Matteo Guendouzi produced an sumptuous 50-yard pass that put Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the clear, but the Gabonese striker couldn’t apply the finishing touch when under pressure from Joel Ward.
Despite that disastrous opening quarter, the visitors responded well and got themselves back into the contest just after the half-hour mark after Wilfried Zaha, who was instrumental in the game here back in April, was brought down in the box by Chambers. Initially, Martin Atkinson booked Zaha for diving, but after VAR intervened, Palace were deservedly awarded a penalty and Milivojevic coolly did the rest from 12-yards for his fifth goal in six games against Arsenal – four of which have come from the spot.
Palace, with their tails up, almost went into the break on level terms, but the German goalkeeper was equal to Patrick Van Aanholt’s right-footed piledriver from just inside the box.
But the away side didn’t have to wait long for their equaliser as just seven minutes into the second period, James McArthur got in behind Chambers and Xhaka and stood up a perfectly-weighted cross for Ayew, who was on hand to nod home his fourth Premier League goal of the season and second in his last three matches.
Arsenal came close to retaking the lead in the 71st minute, but Lacazette struck a post from a tight angle, whilst the dangerous Zaha created space for himself at the other end, but couldn’t keep his curling effort down.
However, Palace’s vulnerability from set-pieces was evident again on 83 minutes as they were unable to clear another Pepe corner and Sokratis was a composed head among a chaotic six-yard box, wonderfully firing the loose ball into the top-corner. But after a long and anxious wait, VAR adjudged Chambers to have fouled Milivojevic in the build-up and the Eagles survived.
Zaha almost had the final say – seconds after Hennessey had denied Luiz – but his goal-bound strike was deflected just past the post before the Ivory Coast international looked set to burst into the clear as Palace counter-attacked in stoppage-time, but Guendouzi threw him to the ground to prevent the possibility of a last-gasp winner.
PHOTOS BY KEITH GILLARD