LONDON, United Kingdom, Oct 27 – Unai Emery’s problems mounted as Arsenal blew a two-goal lead amid VAR controversy and captain Granit Xhaka feuded with fans in Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Crystal Palace.
Emery was already under pressure after Arsenal slumped to a shock defeat at Sheffield United on Monday and the Gunners boss has more fires to put out following his side’s dismal capitulation at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal were on course for victory after goals from Sokratis and David Luiz put them two up inside 10 minutes.
But Luka Milivojevic started the Arsenal collapse when he converted a penalty awarded by VAR after Wilfried Zaha was initially booked for diving.
Emery’s team faded in familiar fashion after that and Jordan Ayew bagged Palace’s deserved equaliser before Arsenal had a late Sokratis winner disallowed by VAR.
Fifth-placed Arsenal, four points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, have won just two of their last eight Premier League games and there is a growing sense that all is not well with the club.
Xhaka’s remarkable bust-up with the crowd laid bare the simmering tensions.
When Xhaka was replaced by Bukayo Saka, the disliked Swiss midfielder trudged slowly to the touchline while petulantly gesticulating to the fans who had cheered his substitution and were now angrily urging him to get off the pitch quicker.
Xhaka’s incredible tantrum climaxed when he ripped off his shirt and stormed straight down the tunnel to more derision from the stands.
The match finished to a soundtrack of boos from Arsenal supporters who sang Mesut Ozil’s name in a pointed reference to Emery’s decision to once again leave out the German star.
It seemed Arsenal might lift the gloom from their depressing trip to Bramall Lane when they opened the scoring in the seventh minute.
When Wayne Hennessey and Gary Cahill made a hash of heading clear from Nicolas Pepe’s corner, Xhaka nodded the ball down for Sokratis to fire home through a crowd of players for his first goal since April.
– Arsenal storm –
Goals from set-pieces are something of a rarity for Arsenal, while Palace hadn’t conceded one from that route all season.
But just two minutes later Arsenal netted again from another corner.
Pepe’s delivery was glanced on by Alexandre Lacazette and, with the Palace defence slow to react, Luiz pounced with a tap-in at the far post.
Lacazette nearly made it three when he controlled Kieran Tierney’s cross and swivelled for a low shot that forced Hennessey to save at full stretch.
Zaha responded in the 32nd minute as the Ivory Coast winger showed why Arsenal tried to sign him in the close-season before switching their attentions to his compatriot Pepe.
When Zaha tricked his way past Calum Chambers in the Arsenal area, the defender clearly stuck out a leg and tripped the Palace star.
Martin Atkinson thought otherwise and booked Zaha for diving, but justice was done when a VAR review reversed the referee’s decision, awarding a spot-kick that Milivojevic stroked home with ease.
Pepe went close from the edge of the area, but Palace were looking more menacing and Patrick van Aanholt’s stinging drive drew a good save from Bernd Leno.
With Arsenal creaky at the back, it was little surprise that Palace equalised in the 52nd minute.
Pepe complained he was fouled by Van Aanholt in the build-up, but Arsenal still had plenty of time to stop James McArthur lofting a cross towards Ayew, who peeled away from the dozing Luiz to head home.
Arsenal tried to quell the storm after Xhaka’s bizarre exit, but Lacazette’s thudding effort rattled the woodwork.
Sokratis thought he had won it from close-range in the 83rd minute after Lacazette flicked on Pepe’s corner.
But for the second time in the match, VAR went against Arsenal as the goal was ruled out for Chambers’ foul on Milivojevic.