Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka was involved in an angry confrontation with his own supporters as Crystal Palace came from two goals down to earn a point in an ill-tempered atmosphere at Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners were two up inside nine minutes as Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz took advantage of poor defending at corners – but it was all downhill from there for Arsenal and manager Unai Emery.
Palace pulled one back before half-time when Luka Milivojevic scored from the spot following a VAR intervention after referee Martin Atkinson had initially shown Wilfried Zaha a yellow card for diving in a tangle with Calum Chambers.
And Palace were level seven minutes after the break when Jordan Ayew headed in James McArthur’s cross at the far post.
The game turned toxic just after the hour when Xhaka was substituted to roars of delight from Arsenal’s fans, the newly-appointed captain reacting angrily to jeers at his slow departure by waving and cupping his ear sarcastically to the home support, exchanging words before taking off his shirt and disappearing down the tunnel.
Arsenal’s frustration and misery was complete when another VAR intervention infuriated Emirates Stadium and denied the Gunners victory after Sokratis scored from close-range late on.
As the players returned to the centre circle, referee Atkinson was involved in more debate with Stockley Park, where an apparent foul by Chambers on Milivojevic was detected, causing widespread anger inside an arena that was already boiling over.
Xhaka lays bare Emirates frustration
Xhaka was a contentious choice as new Arsenal captain – and his behaviour here did nothing to suggest it is a role that suits him.
His own performances raise questions about his suitability but his petulant, goading reaction to his 61st-minute substitution by youngster Bukayo Saka only played into the hands of those who believe he does not have the character for the role.
Of course, it will have hurt a proud professional to hear the mixture of delight and sarcasm that greeted his number coming up, but his response was provocative and met with loud condemnation from Arsenal’s fans.
Arsenal had conceded a two-goal lead so there was a sense of urgency that was not reflected in his slow stroll towards the technical area, anger growing with every laboured stride.
He then waved his arms towards Arsenal’s fans before foolishly cupping his ear and going through the most cursory of gestures with Emery, also appearing to exchange words with supporters. Xhaka then took off his shirt and went straight down the tunnel.
It summed up the discontent lurking close to the surface at Arsenal, with further evidence provided by the loud chants for exiled German star Mesut Ozil as they fought in vain for the winner.
Arsenal are in fifth but a gap is now opening up – four points to Chelsea in fourth – and this was another display that exposed their fragility and soft centre as that early advantage was cast aside.
This was another unsatisfactory 90 minutes for Emery and Arsenal.
Palace show grit once more
This draw continues Palace’s fine start to the season as they enjoy a top-six place after this battling point.
Manager Roy Hodgson will be mortified at conceding those two early goals from corners but will also be delighted at the way Palace dug deep and showed great reserves of resilience to fight back.
It was inevitable Zaha would be a central figure after Arsenal’s summer pursuit of the player fell flat and he reluctantly stayed at Selhurst Park when a move to Everton failed to materialise.
And so it proved in the incident that changed the game just after the half hour as he was initially cautioned for diving before VAR correctly ruled he had been dragged down by Chambers.
This was all the encouragement Palace needed, playing on Arsenal’s nerves and plundering the equaliser through Ayew.
Hodgson himself accepts Palace are unlikely to stay in this lofty position but there is certainly enough experience and threat in this side to ensure they will not have any serious concerns at the wrong end of the Premier League table.
Man of the match – Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace)
Zaha and Milivojevic combine for penalties – the stats
- Arsenal had won 49 consecutive Premier League games after going two goals ahead but they have now dropped points in the last two games where they have led by two.
- Since returning to the top flight in 2013-14, Crystal Palace have won (48) and scored (39) more penalties than any other side in the Premier League.
- Just 106 seconds separated Arsenal’s first two goals.
- Alexandre Lacazette has been directly involved in 29 Premier League goals for Arsenal at the Emirates – a tally bettered only by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (30) since the Frenchman’s debut in August 2017.
- Since his Premier League debut in February 2017, Crystal Palace midfielder Luka Milivojevic has scored 21 penalties – more than twice as many as anyone else in that time.
- Since returning to Palace in 2014-15, Wilfried Zaha has won a joint-high 16 penalties in the Premier League.
- Eagles striker Jordan Ayew has scored four goals in his last eight Premier League games, which is as many as he managed in his previous 34.
Arsenal travel to Anfield to face Liverpool in the Carabao Cup fourth round on Wednesday (19:30 GMT), before hosting Wolves in the Premier League on Saturday (15:00 GMT).
Crystal Palace host Leicester City in the league on Sunday (14:00 GMT).