A Point At Palace

I woke up on Sunday morning feeling a sense of excitement, but also a slight sense of nervousness. Arsenal were fast approaching a club record for most consecutive wins and as we got nearer, I was more on edge. I wasn’t feeling too confident about the game to be completely honest, but I was praying that the Gunners would put my doubts to bed once again, as they’ve done for the last 11 games. My reason for excitement, however, was mainly due to the fact that I was down in Cape Town for the weekend, which meant I could watch the game with the official Arsenal Supporters Club of Cape Town and meet some of the Gooners down there.

I was in disbelief when I saw the line up announced. Still no sign of a proven left back on the pitch or on the bench, and the closest thing we had to someone filling that role was Lichtsteiner, who was among the subs. Granit Xhaka started in that position instead, with around 1 and a half games’ experience under his belt in that position, so myself and a lot of other fans were understandably nervous that he might get found out in this game. Furthermore, Mhkitaryan made way in the starting line up for Aubameyang who has been in fine goal scoring form, and looked to add to his tally. Mesut Özil led the boys out, and I must say, I’m quite happy with Emery giving him the captaincy these days. It feels as if the extra responsibility gives him a bit more incentive to do a bit better. The game had started and I had a strange feeling about Wilfried Zaha. I even told my dad that I was nervous about him, because he was a threat to our team. Hell, I’ve even got him in my Fantasy squad for that matter. I’d also forgotten that Crystal Palace had the likes of Jordan Ayew and Andros Townsend in their team, two pacey players which could also make a difference on their day. Zaha showed real promise in the opening minutes and came close on on occasion where he hit the base of the post. Shortly after that Palace probably deserved to score after they cut our defence wide open with a beautiful move that you’d normally associate Arsenal with. However Townsend put it wide of the post and all that great play led to nothing. Had they scored it, I probably wouldn’t have been mad – absolute brilliance in the build up. It’s as if they had watched our tapes over and over and tried to give us a taste of our own medicine. Arsenal had 2 very good chances as well thereafter, the first of which fell to Lacazette, who I thought for sure was going to tuck it away, but whether it was on his weaker foot, or whether he took the shot on when a ball was a bit out of his reach, he just couldn’t convert it, leaving the score at 0-0 after the chance had passed. There was another chance that had come our way, with Lacazette and Özil linking up well again, the latter doing well to set up Bellerin for a shot, but the Spaniard took too many touches and allowed Palace to throw some defenders in front of the shot.

Crystal Palace had won a corner in the dying minutes of the half, and whipped a ball into the box that Leno didn’t particularly deal too well with unfortunately. The ball fell to Kouyate, who did well to put his body in front of the ball as Mustafi was sliding to clear it away. Down he went and the penalty was awarded on the stroke of half time. Milivojevic, their trusty penalty taker, stepped up and put the penalty past Leno for Crystal Palace to go in 1-0 at halftime. Interestingly, Arsenal have never gone into half time with the lead in the Premier League so far. They’ve gone in level in 8 of their 10 matches, while the other two were from losing positions.

But it seems like Arsenal are specialists in the second half, and we’ve seen this from previous games, so we as fans knew there was still a chance this could be turned around. And so we proved that once again, as it took just 5 minutes into the second half before we grabbed our equaliser. Lucas Torreira stole the ball in a dangerous position before Milivojevic brought him down just outside of the box. Free kick to the Gunners with Xhaka and Özil standing by to take it. Xhaka has already shown us what he can do from a dead-ball situation and this time he did it again. The Swiss opted for a shot instead of a pass, and curled the ball into the far left corner with a powerful shot which Hennessey got a fingertip to, but couldn’t keep out. An amazing free kick once again and it was all square at 1-1. Another 5 minutes later, Lichtsteiner, who came on at half time for a supposedly injured Bellerin, won a corner which would ultimately lead to Arsenal’s second goal. The corner was whipped in by Xhaka and took a touch off of Lacazettes hand before it fell to Aubameyang, who sort of “Sparta-kicked” the ball goal wards. Crystal Palace thought they had cleared it off the line, but GLT (goal line technology) showed us that the ball had only just crossed the line. A controversial build up to the goal perhaps, but until VAR arrives in England, handballs like that will probably work in Arsenals favour for the time being (remember Rob Holdings handball?). 2-1 to the Gunners with Aubameyangs 7th goal in the Premier League, making him the joint highest scorer with Eden Hazard so far. The Gabonese striker has been marvelous for us since joining, and has been directly involved in 22 goals in 23 appearances (scoring 17 and assisting 5). That’s really impressive!

Crystal Palace brought on a German kid by the name of Max Meyer, who came close to equalising a couple of times, hitting the woodwork once and blazing the ball on another occasion, as they went on to find another goal to bring them back in the game. You could sense that they were still in this game and wouldn’t lie down easy, which meant that we had to try find another goal to kill the game off. But that’s when Emery made a strange decision in my opinion, and brought Mesut Özil off. The captain was NOThappy with this decision and clearly showed his frustration as he stormed off the pitch. I’m still unsure as to why Emery decided to bring him off, because personally I would’ve kept him on for much longer.

Unfortunately for us, Crystal Palace found that equaliser they were fighting for and the man I feared from the beginning was involved in getting it for them. Zaha was on the attack when was brought down in the box by Xhaka, winning a penalty for the Eagles in the last 10 minutes of the game. It looked like a dive on the replays, but Xhaka honestly claimed afterwards that his knee made contact with Zaha’s before he went down. This time Bernd Leno guessed the right way, but Milivojevic’s penalty was too powerful for the German to even get a touch. There was just too little time for us to find a winner and the final result ended at 2-2.

So that’s it. Our winning streak has come to an end after what was a disappointing result. But fear not, dear Gunners… as we’re still unbeaten in 12, and the progress continues. We can be super proud of this team so far, and I believe there’s so much more to come. Despite the result, I had a really great time at the Bounce Bar in Plumstead with the fans from Arsenal Cape Town. It’s a really cool bar with friendly faces, cold beers, good food and shooters all round whenever Arsenal score. What a great vibe! Be sure to watch the game there next time you’re in the area…

Next up is Blackpool in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday, which if we win, can be a nice confidence booster before we face off against title favourites Liverpool on Saturday evening. I am super nervous for that one!

Come on you Gunners!