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LONDON -- Alexandre Lacazette saved Mikel Arteta's blushes against his fellow former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira, striking in the dying seconds of injury time to earn the Gunners a 2-2 draw against Crystal Palace they had scarcely deserved.

Palace had seemed on course to leapfrog Arsenal into 13th -- the sort of position Vieira would never have stood for during his time in north London -- after goals from Christian Benteke and Odsonne Edouard, fair reward for a display of explosive counterattacking and robust play without the ball after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's seventh-minute goal had put the home side ahead.

However, Arsenal's desperate late chase of a goal paid dividends when Lacazette was on hand to volley home from a corner that had pinballed around the box, earning Arteta's side a point that leaves them four points off the top four. Still, if their attack cannot click into gear, their chances of getting close to the European places, let alone the promised land of Champions League qualification, looks slim.

Their meandering approach for most of this game was all the more frustrating given the Gunners had burst out of the traps early on, aggressive in their press and able to advance the ball through midfield with a sweep of Thomas Partey's right boot. Nicolas Pepe, handed a first Premier League start in a month, looked determined to make an impression. From the first seconds, he proved himself to be up for the fight, responding to Benteke's attempts to run through him at the kick off by shoving the Palace striker off the pitch.

That willingness to work was swiftly rewarded. The visiting supporters were jeering Martin Odegaard's overhit corner as Pepe hared after it. A give-and-go with Takehiro Tomiyasu and the Ivorian opened himself to bend the ball into the far corner. Vicente Guaita could not have done much more than parry the ball away; from the angle offered to Aubameyang it was far more likely he would miss than score but off his weaker left foot he did excellently to divert the ball back toward goal.

For a time, Mikel Arteta's players seemed to grow several inches taller. Benteke was appealing for a penalty when in reality he had simply been muscled off the ball by a triumvirate of Arsenal defenders. Spaces kept popping up for Thomas Partey in midfield and he was exploiting them with his passing. Aubameyang and company had Palace penned back with their press.

Yet more than any team, there seems to be vast distances between Arsenal's peaks and their troughs. For a time, you could convince yourself this was a team ready to compete for fifth place, perhaps even more. Yet for most of the first half, they were firmly second-best, their attack reduced to a string of Partey shots that draw an impressed gasp from the Emirates faithful even as they fizz firmly past the far post.

Those Partey shots are getting ever more silly, what was once a warm joke about his inefficiency in front of a goal now developing into what should be a serious cause for frustration in the Arsenal dugout. Three times the home side were positioned favorably in the Palace half, primed to exert pressure on Guaita's goal. On each occasion, their territory was wasted with hopeful punts worth a combined 0.08 expected goals (xG).

Where Thomas Partey is taking his shots from in the Premier League (left) and where they are ending up (right). The size of the bubble reflects the xG value of any shot. TruMedia

Partey averages a shot around every 50 minutes for Arsenal, though their frequency would appear to be ticking upwards. A ludicrous 86.8 percent of them come from outside the box. Of the 38 he has taken in the Premier League, only one has been worth more than 0.1xG, i.e. the sort of shot you would score one time out of 10.

"He has the capacity to do that," Arteta told CBS Sports. "He has done it throughout his career. He is trying but he needs to try in the right areas."

As Arsenal's attack fizzled out, Palace's became more imposing. Edouard and Conor Gallagher brought energetic running down the flanks that pinned back their full backs. The home team were not coming close in 50-50s and duels anymore and their opponents looked devastating with open field ahead of them.

Passing lanes that Partey had blocked up earlier were emerging around the half hour, when James McArthur slipped a ball straight down the middle of the Arsenal defense for Benteke to turn and drive low. Aaron Ramsdale did well to not let the shot slip out of his grasp. 

Palace entered the dressing room buoyed by another late tester, Gallagher's volley stinging Ramsdale's palms. Equally they were rather fortunate to still have their full complement of players after James McArthur's booting of Bukayo Saka's calf, some way from the looping ball they were challenging for, was deemed to be merely worthy of a yellow card.

Saka could now be a doubt for Friday's game against Aston Villa. "He could not continue," Arteta said. "I saw the action. I cannot believe how the player stayed on the pitch."

Fairly or otherwise, duels that Arsenal once had a fighting chance in were seeing them embarrassed by their opponents. Partey expected more time than Palace would give him on the edge of his box, Jordan Ayew thundering into a challenge that saw the ball break to Benteke. A smart low drive asked too much of Ramsdale, his third goal in his last five meetings with the Gunners.

Briefly, Arsenal came out of their shell but in doing so they merely left themselves vulnerable to Vieira's hard running front three. A corner for the hosts in the 63rd minute was cleared and Palace just ran straight at the fragile heart of the defense. Ben White Rowe ran backwards further and further until Edouard was primed to release a shot, the ball exploding off his right boot and against the crossbar.

Then those old Emirates Stadium anxieties rose to the surface. At its best, this is a far more energetic, warm-hearted and passionate venue than it is often lazily labelled. Yet it does not take much for the murmurs of dissatisfaction to bubble up, the furious cries for Arteta to add something to an attack that consistently stalls out. In the space of an hour after the opener Arsenal created five shots worth a combined 0.14 xG.

Tierney thundered a late effort against the bar. Substitute Gabriel Martinelli injected the chaos that this attack lacked for so long. Pepe was denied a penalty when he was convinced Tyrick Mitchell had grabbed his jersey. But these were desperate acts from a side that had had to abandon any semblance of a game plan to chase a point they did not deserve.