When you are fighting to stay in the Premier League it is usually the key decisions that seem to go against you. Those decisions can become pivotal at the end of the season when one point can be the difference between staying up and going down.
Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson certainly knows all about these fine margins. As Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang wheeled away in celebration after putting Arsenal 2-1 up against his plucky Eagles side, Hodgson would have been seething.
In a moment that brought back memories of Diego Maradona’s infamous handball against England at the 1986 World Cup, Alexandre Lacazette flicked the ball with his hand into Aubameyang’s path, with the Gabonese star then poking home.
Before the game at Selhurst Park there was an unwanted record for Palace of zero Premier League goals at home so far this season. That changed when Luka Milivojevic struck the opener from the penalty spot following a poor challenge by Shkodran Mustafi on Cheikhou Kouyate.
Up to that point Arsenal had continued their familiar theme of average first half performances, as Wilfried Zaha hit the outside of the post and Palace looked threatening on the counter attack. Arsenal had their own chances with Lacazette and Hector Bellerin both having good opportunities to score, but they were well below par as a whole.
Palace’s 4-4-2 formation allowed Bellerin to push forward in the first half but Alex McCarthy blocked off the potential passes to Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi, essentially taking them out of the game. Neither player could replicate their dominant performances against Leicester from the last league match, but in reality this was an off day from Arsenal where their mistakes of recent weeks were finally punished by a fired up opponent who could have gone on to win the match.
Arsenal went into the game in South London on the back of an 11-game winning streak in all competitions. The run itself looked mightily impressive on paper but it’s fair to say that Unai Emery’s team have rode their luck at times, making a number of defensive errors and conceding chances throughout games. It was no different at Selhurst Park where Palace’s two goals came from the penalty spot and were the consequence of two rash fouls in the box from Mustafi and Xhaka, respectively.
Swiss midfielder Xhaka, playing at left-back for the third consecutive match, scored Arsenal’s equaliser after curling in a tremendous free-kick as the second half got underway. He ran straight over to Emery to celebrate, perhaps indicating that it was a training move which paid off. However, Xhaka’s suspect defensive qualities were exposed once again as he fouled the tricky Zaha, who looked inspired in the final third. Milivojevic stepped up and scored his second from the spot as Arsenal were left to rue their poor distribution and naïve defensive mistakes.
The Gunners have conceded more goals than Palace in the league this season and while Aubameyang continued his fine run of form since joining Arsenal – he’s been directly involved in 22 goals in 23 Premier League games (17 goals, five assists) – there can be no doubt that the defensive frailties of last season still appear to be present. It’s an issue that Emery and his coaching staff will need to solve soon as their luck finally starts to run out.