Sunday 27 October 2019 8:08 pm

VAR wars deflect from Unai Emery and Arsenal's woes; Frank Lampard the genius; Leicester outfoxing all over

An exercised Unai Emery pointed, with some justification, to two video assistant referee interventions to explain why Arsenal lost a two-goal lead and drew 2-2 at home to Crystal Palace on Sunday.

“For me, VAR is positive, but we need to manage it in the right way,” said the Gunners manager. “At the moment to us I think it isn’t working well.” 

First, the VAR overturned Martin Atkinson’s call that Wilfried Zaha had dived in the box and awarded a penalty to the visitors, which Luka Milivojevic scored to halve the deficit. Having not awarded a penalty for the first nine rounds of the Premier League, VARs gave no fewer than four at the weekend. 

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Then, when Arsenal thought they had found a late winner, VAR detected an infringement and Atkinson was advised to disallow the strike by Sokratis, who also hit the opener.  

Both calls were debatable, particularly the second, but a focus on the decisions also masked Palace’s resilience and the Gunners’ deficiencies. 

Just as they did at Watford last month, Arsenal raced into a 2-0 lead only to surrender the advantage.

This draw with Palace, who dented their Champions League hopes with a 3-2 win here last season, leaves Emery’s men four points off the top four.

Arsenal captain Xhaka took off his shirt and marched down the tunnel when substituted early in the second half. Credit: Getty

Equally concerning for the Spaniard is his team’s struggle to score in open play. Both goals and the disallowed effort came from Nicolas Pepe corners.

To make matters worse for the under-fire Emery — already at odds with top earner Mesut Ozil — captain Granit Xhaka appeared to swear in the direction of home fans, removed his shirt and marched straight down the tunnel after being substituted in the 61st minute.

“He was wrong,” said Emery, who declined to say whether Xhaka would keep the armband.

Zaha outflanks Pepe

Zaha played like a man with a point to prove, having been the subject of summer interest from Arsenal, only for Palace to hold firm and the Gunners sign Pepe instead.

He won the penalty by luring Calum Chambers into an unwise challenge, was chief tormentor for Palace, who remain sixth, and almost snatched all three points with a low shot late on. 

While Pepe was a danger at set-pieces, Zaha was more aggressive and carried the greater threat throughout the game. 

Lampard the genius?

Was Frank Lampard’s reticence in using Christian Pulisic all a careful plan to wait until the club record signing was at peak fitness, or down to something else altogether?

We may have to wait for that answer but, following Pulisic’s hat-trick in Chelsea’s 4-2 win at Burnley on Saturday, Lampard’s handling of the American attacking midfielder looks like genius.

In fact it has been a breakthrough week for the former Borussia Dortmund player, who came off the bench to set up the winner for Michy Batshuayi against Ajax on Wednesday night.

Lampard’s explanation for keeping Pulisic on the sidelines earlier in the season is that he needed rest after a busy summer. Whatever the factors at play, the 21-year-old has made it virtually impossible for his manager to drop him now.

Foxes shine on all fronts

Unless you are a Saints fan, Leicester’s record-breaking 9-0 humiliation of Southampton on Friday night left no shortage of qualities to marvel at.

From the razor-sharp finishing of Ayoze Perez and Jamie Vardy, to the tireless and creative full-back play of Ben Chilwell and James Maddison bending it like Beckham, the Foxes were masterful.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the display was how dangerous they were in all areas of the pitch — a testament to the fine balance that Brendan Rodgers has engineered, which is keeping them the closest challengers to the duopoly of Liverpool and Manchester City.

Main image credit: Getty