Crystal Palace 2 – 2 Arsenal
In the past, it was a game which would keep us in animated conversation for hours afterwards. The journey home, via various hostelries, would whizz past until the trek was completed. Two penalties, one of which was contentious, to say the least; a handball assist in the second Arsenal goal; it had almost everything.
Except three points. And frankly, we didn’t deserve them either. For the first time, the Unai Emery hairdryer failed to inspire us to an imperious
A bright start after the interval gave way to listlessness as fatigue took hold and Palace’s refusal to yield. Doughty in defence, durable in attack; prodding, poking and hitting the turf at every opportunity.
And hitting the turf brought them the second penalty. It felt inevitable; somehow, the stars were aligned. A moment’s flippancy before the game proved unerringly accurate, aside from the defeat.
Fun fact. On average, Granit Xhaka was booked every 221 minutes as a midfielder. He's played 135 minutes as a left-back, so he's due to get booked in the 86th minute today. Single goal defeat to a late penalty, anyone?— YW (@Yogis_Warrior) October 28, 2018
Xhaka admitted afterwards that he made contact with Zaha; hardly surprising given the winger dived into Granit’s knee. A moment’s hesitation on his part allowed the situation to develop but overall, he did well as a makeshift left-back. Holding assumed responsibility for covering and showed great maturity in his work. Promising stuff.
Which is more than can be said for Mustafi. A brain fart moment as the first-half closed saw him lunge at the space where he thought the ball would be. The ball, however, wasn’t there, an ankle was instead and Mustafi connected.
He is an odd player to fathom. A £30m desperation buy which typified how broken the structure at the club became. Will we make the same mistake in the future? Of course; it’s a natural football
Should he be near the Premier League team? I feel more comfortable seeing Sokratis and Holding in the XI than Mustafi and anyone. However, it seems unlikely anything is going to change any time soon.
The game’s only stunning moment came courtesy of Xhaka’s left boot. As sweet a strike as you could wish to see from the edge of the area. Curled into the top corner, unerringly.
As for the second, there is a lot of flawed analysis so I’ll add to it. Aubameyang prodded home but Lacazette flicked the ball on with his hand. VAR would disallow the goal, so the logic went.
Except VAR would tell the referee to award a penalty instead, for the obvious and vigorous tugging of Lacazette’s shirt which caused the hand to go up in protest or involuntarily. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway.
Atkinson is an infuriating referee – is there any other kind? – in his inability to spot foul play. Suckered in by every trick one week, too intimidated to make a decision the next, and then a mixture of the two. This was the latter category.
It is tempting to blame the referee but we must look closer to home for the result. There’s no doubt Atkinson influenced it (strongly) but we didn’t raise our game for any sustained spell. Twenty minutes in the second half when we threatened to rattle in three or four; then we slipped back to old ways.
Hamstrung by Confidence in Crucial Moments
The crucial point to remember is that we are still twelve unbeaten. Problems remain with the team; we’re not a 90-minute XI at the moment and haven’t been all season. It’s perhaps the most taxing problem for Unai Emery to resolve.
That and the back four. He’s hamstrung by the left-backs’ hamstrings but centrally, I wonder how Mustafi retains anyone’s confidence. His decision-making is appalling in key moments. Not all the time, which in itself is something of an issue. It’s hard to predict where his erratic behaviour will take us next.
But the second penalty wasn’t down to him. Lacazette’s loose ball started all the shenanigans in the first place. That summed up our day. We shot ourselves in the foot when we needed to stamp our authority.
As I mentioned eleven wins and a draw is nothing to be sniffed at. Conceding just before half-time and with ten minutes to go last season, would see us crumble. We didn’t this time which is some of the fabled resilience showing through.
However, the defending from all parts of the team needs to improve. The pressing game was evident in fits and starts yesterday. In a season where it’s obvious that the top four is going to be a tight race, that might be a crucial difference between returning to the Champions League or sitting among the also-rans.