Taking charge of his second London Derby in five matches as Arsenal boss, Mikel Arteta’s side made the short trip to Selhurst Park to take on a Crystal Palace team sitting one point above them in the Premier League table. 37-year-old Arteta would find himself up against a man 35 years his senior in 72-year-old Roy Hodgson, in a battle of wits between the league’s youngest and oldest managers.
Any shreds of speculation around Granit Xhaka’s future seem to have fizzled out, as he found himself in the starting line-up alongside Lucas Torreira in an unchanged side from their impressive victory over Manchester United. New Palace signing Cenk Tosun, on loan from Everton, started on the bench as Jordan Ayew led the Eagles’ front line.
If Arsenal had taken anything from Leeds’ explosive start in their FA Cup clash earlier in the week, they appeared to emulate what the Championship outfit subjected them to in the early exchanges. Palace couldn’t get near the Gunners; Arteta’s side were given plenty of time and space to work with the ball and passing it around beautifully, just without the final penetration.
But it didn’t take long for Arsenal to make all that pressure count. David Luiz was pinging balls forward consistently throughout the opening 10 minutes, and it was another pass from the defender serving as the catalyst for Arsenal’s opener. The Brazilian’s ball to Mesut Ozil was flicked on to Alexandre Lacazette, who fed a slick ball through to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to slot home for his 14th PL goal of the season.
While Lacazette may be experiencing a goal drought at the moment, he sure knows where his strike partner will be making the run, and you can trust the Frenchman to find him. But Arsenal once again struggled to create any significant chances to extend their lead as Hodgson’s side began to grow into the game. Bernd Leno remained relatively untroubled for the most part however, as his defenders were using their upper body strength incredibly well to shield the ball from Palace’s attackers and preserve their 1-0 lead.
The second 45 saw Matteo Guendouzi brought on for Torreira, who according to Arteta looks to have picked up a muscle injury. Not really surprising considering the little Uruguayan was in the wars a lot in that first half. His absence was felt straight away in this game, and will most certainly be a difference maker if he faces a spell on the sidelines.
The Eagles’ improved start to the second half was rewarded in highly fortunate circumstances, as Ayew’s effort deflected off Luiz and looped into the net past a scrambling Leno. As if things couldn’t go further downhill for Arsenal, goalscorer and captain Aubameyang was correctly sent off following a VAR review for a dangerous challenge on Max Meyer. A three-game ban for Arsenal’s leading scorer is sure to hurt the team’s attacking returns in upcoming matches, but it was a horrific tackle which could have ended so much worse for Meyer.
An especially ironic change in fortunes for the Palace fans, a select few of whom were displaying an anti-VAR banner during the first half, which was then swiftly removed following the sending off. It’s safe to assume those same Palace fans had forgotten about the earlier meeting of the teams this season, where Sokratis’ winner was unfathomably ruled out for a “foul” by Calum Chambers. Either way, an already scrappy game was about to turn even more competitive with Arteta’s side down to 10 men.
One could have expected Palace to attack all guns blazing with the advantage of an extra man, and Sokratis was forced into a goal-line clearance, but it was the Gunners that looked the more likely side to snatch a winner near the end. Some magnificent work out wide from substitute Gabriel Martinelli eventually found its way to Nicolas Pepe, but Vicente Guaita’s terrific double save from him and Laca on the follow-up meant the points were shared in the day’s early kick-off. Three 1-1 draws in a row for Hodgson’s side, who still sit one point above Arsenal in the table.
After five games in charge, it’s clear to see how Arteta wants this Arsenal side to play, and we saw it today for the best part of 30 minutes. Being able to maintain that style of play for the full 90 will be the difference between these three and one-pointers. And against the highly-organised defensive unit of Sheffield United next Saturday, all eyes will be on Arsenal’s attacking contingent and their ability to put the ball in the back of the net without Aubameyang leading the line.