Arsenal had already thrown away their two-goal lead when Granit Xhaka’s number went up and the home crowd roared their approval.
Unai Emery was replacing his captain with teenager Bukayo Saka as he went in search of a winner but cannot have predicted the reaction which seems to sum up the confused mood at the North London club.
Xhaka trudged off, dejected and the fans started to climb to their feet yelled at him to move faster and then jeered when he failed to speed up.
The Arsenal midfielder waved his arms as if to say, ‘yeah, let’s hear you’. So, they booed him again, and this time with more feeling and Xhaka cupped a hand to his ear as he stalked off. Emery offered a hand, Xhaka gave it a slap, tore off his shirt, tossed it aside and swore as he stormed down the tunnel.
It was an incredible a show of dissent; of fans at war with their captain, and yet it was only just the most remarkable incident in a remarkable game with the video assistant referee (VAR) in the thick of the action. Arsenal thought they had won it when Sokratis found the net in the 83rd minute.
Crystal Palace failed to clear a corner, there was a scramble and it fell to the big Greek who slammed in what would have been his second of the game.
The ball was back on the centre spot when it became clear the VAR was scrutinising the footage and after a long delay the goal was ruled out for a grappling foul by Calum Chambers on Luka Milivojevic in the midst of the mayhem.
It was the second vital intervention by the VAR. Palace’s fight back was triggered by a penalty which was initially not awarded by referee Martin Atkinson but he changed the decision and Milovojevic scored.
Palace’s strong away form, with wins inside the last year at Manchester United, Manchester City and here at Arsenal last season, has been built on a solid and well-organised defensive unit and an ability to punish teams on the counter-attack.
Reliable as ever from the spot, Milivojevic reduced the deficit, anxiety seeped back into Arsenal’s football and the visitors preyed on it. Patrick van Aanholt forced a save from Bernd Leno before the interval and Ayew levelled early in the second half.
The goal was created by McArthur who darted in behind Chambers on the left, side-stepped Xhaka and produced Luiz had been drawn under the ball and Ayew was left with the relatively simple task of heading it down past Leno as the ‘keeper flung his body across the line in desperation.
The Xhaka substitution left Arsenal with four up front and two in midfield, the attack-minded Dani Ceballos and Matteo Guendouzi. They poured forward but Palace resisted. Hennessey made saves and the Sokratis goal was ruled out.
There was also a late scare for Guendouzi when he escaped with a rugby tackle on Zaha as the Palace striker sped clear on the break.