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 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.