A late Alexandre Lacazette effort deep into stoppage time denied Patrick Vieira what would have been a deserved win on this emotional home coming with his Crystal Palace side.
Vieira was a colossal player in his hey days at Arsenal having played 279 times for the Gunners winning four FA Cups and three league titles and the icing on the cake was being made club captain in 2002 and leading the famous Arsenal Invincible side.
It was a wet cold Monday night but you could sense that confident feeling in the atmosphere that Arsenal will get the 3 points with Arteta and his team gradually climbing up the table.
At 19.48 pm when the match announcer welcomed the opposing Manager (a show of class by Arsenal) the fans at the Emirates started singing “Vieira, woo oo oh, Vieira, woo oo oh, He comes from Senegal, He plays for Ars-en-al”(To the tune of Volare by Dean Martin) you knew a warm welcome by the Arsenal fans was in the offering for their ex-captain and arguably one Arsenal all-time great midfielders.
With the pre-match formalities out of the way and with both managers exchanging pleasantries, Arsenal started on the front foot with some crisp passing and you could see the urgency in the team’s play with Aubameyang leading the charge. A Nicholas Pepe’s goal bound shot was tipped away by Guaita in goal for Palace but Aubameyang was quick of his mark to put the rebound ball in the net in the 8th minute. A celebration with an acrobatic flip over was certainly good for the cameras and you definitely knew it will make the highlights of the game.
If you thought this was going to be a mauling for Crystal Palace and expected them toendure a long night at the hands of Arsenal you would have been forgiven. Patrick Vieira’s Palace side had a different script.
As the game progressed, it was obvious that the midfield was not working with no one partnering Partey effectively. This was obvious by the number of turnovers with both Gabriel and White not being able to move the ball further upfront. At a point the fans got frustrated at the number of passes between both players instead of making progressive passes up the field.
I could not help but observe the demeanour of both managers, while Arteta was animated on the touch line shouting instructions and asking his players to press and close down their opponents, Vieira was the opposite – calm and collected although moving outside technical area several times.
Crystal Palace did keep their composure after going down early and looked more ready for a fight as the second half started. Both Palace goals were a gift considering that Partey gave away the ball (although he went down claiming he was fouled) with Benteke perfectly placingthe ball beating Ramsdale in goal.
Sambi Lokonga was displaced of the ball in midfield which looked more like a foul, but Mike Dean allowed play to continue and Edouard buried his chance. The feeling of confidence evaporated at the Emirates. Vieira clenched his fist, and the ex-captain did smell blood.
Arteta had brought in Lacazette with 23 minutes to go and immediately you could see the positive vibes and energy from the French man. Arsenal had a corner, and you couldn’t help but applaud Lacazette gesture towards the fans at the North bank end urging them on to be vocal and that the team needed their support. The Arsenal fans responded instantly with shouts of “Come on Arsenal.”
With time running out Arsenal had a freekick which was wasted by Pepe. Kieran Tierney had his shot ricochet off the crossbar and at that moment you just felt it was not Arsenal’s night.
Aaron Ramsdale kept urging on the boys from the back and on two different occasions he had to take the throw-ins (albeit in his own half) to get his team going. Talk about desperate measure.
With four added minutes by the officials it looked certain that Crystal Palace had picked up the three points at stake, however deep in stoppage time Ben White goal bound shot came of Guaita and landed in front of Lacazette who pumped it home. 2-2. Arsenal had gotten out of jail. It was relief for Arteta on the bench even though you could sense his disappointment at the other side Vieira went down in shock at the Arsenal equaliser.
Scoring in stoppage time is always exciting if you win the game however getting a point also brings a sense of respite. Arteta will have to look into why his side played with the handbrake on. They have an opportunity to put things right on Friday night against Aston Villa. Lacazette once again has made a case to be in the starting XI.
As the match ended, the question that came to my mind was, Did Vieira just audition for the Arsenal job? Time will tell.
Written by Bimboh Adekoya who was at The Emirates