Arsenal have not always had happy trips to Brighton in recent years. Last season, it was the beginning of the end for Mattéo Guendouzi and led to a lengthy period on the sidelines for Bernd Leno in the wake of Neal Maupay’s challenge.
This season, it was a chance for Arsenal to right a few wrongs. With this in mind, Mikel Arteta made only one change to the side that beat Chelsea on Boxing Day, with captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang returning to the squad in place of Alexandre Lacazette, who dropped to the bench.
Whatever start Arsenal had made against Chelsea was all-but-evaporated as the opening whistle blew. Arsenal looked slow and lethargic in midfield, passing was going backwards every single time and the players looked totally worse for wear at almost every juncture.
It was the home side who had the better chances, with Brighton’s forward line enjoying a number of silly Arsenal mistakes. Rob Holding and Mohamed Elneny were the chief culprits in the mistakes being made and what little Arsenal could do to keep the ball was soon snuffed out with a lackadaisical forward pass and Arsenal finished a lame first-half with an xG of 0.05.
The second-half saw a definite improvement in Arsenal’s fortunes. Though still struggling to replicate the blistering attacks that Arsenal had become so well-known for in the days of Arsène Wenger, there was a definite steel about the Gunners going forward and soon Arsenal found themselves gaining a foothold in the game.
Gabriel Martinelli was withdrawn for Alexandre Lacazette, with the Brazilian needing a rest and while Arsenal fans began to curse Mikel Arteta for withdrawing Arsenal’s best player in recent weeks, Lacazette had fired Arsenal in front.
A blistering run from Bukayo Saka led him into the penalty area and he found Lacazette easily who took a touch to steady himself before firing home a stupendous finish into the bottom corner to give us the game’s only goal.
From there, Arsenal still managed to create chances and had Arsenal’s forward line been a little more deadly, Arsenal could have walked away with another one or two.
Despite the better second-half performance, the final whistle was welcome for Arteta and co. as Arsenal won back-to-back games.
As with all of Arsenal’s games this season, there are positives and negatives to take.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s reinstation in the team did not look justified. The Gabonese forward looked tired and lethargic for most of the night and looked like a man who had only just returned from injury. Though the talismanic striker cannot be entirely blamed for a lack of service, the Arsenal captain did very little to help himself and often found himself drifting out to the left, congesting the flank and leaving no space in the middle for further attacks.
Another worry was the performance of Mohamed Elneny. Though Elneny is likely only a stop-gap until Thomas Partey returns to the team, it was a rather poor performance from the Egyptian, who found himself giving away possession and often leaving gaps in midfield as he burst forward to press.
Part of playing a pressing system is knowing when to press and when not and Elneny seems to be unaware of the latter, with constant bursts forward leaving total exposure in midfield for Granit Xhaka.
Elsewhere, the performances of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe will leave Arsenal fans very impressed. The two Hale End graduates were Arsenal’s best players on the night and though Smith Rowe is perhaps a long way away of being able to provide the kind of creative flair that Mesut Özil so often brings, it is good to know that Arsenal do have a ready-made replacement for the German in the academy.
Saka however was astonishingly good, with his run leading to the only goal of the game. Saka was instrumental in many of Arsenal’s best moves and when he was subbed out due to injury, it became clear that Arsenal’s creativity had take a huge knock. Saka’s removal meant that Dani Ceballos dropped into midfield and Smith Rowe was pushed out wide as Arteta looked to go for a conservative 4-3-3.
Two wins on the spin is definitely a step in the right direction for Mikel Arteta and Arsenal, but now Arsenal need to look at preserving their record and perhaps a more toothful attack as attention turns to Sam Allardyce’s Werst Bromwich Albion on the 2nd of January.
1.) Bernd Leno
2.) Héctor Bellerín
16.) Rob Holding
22.) Pablo Marí
3.) Kieran Tierney
25.) Mohamed Elneny
34.) Granit Xhaka
7.) Bukayo Saka (Ceballos 81’)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Maitland-Niles 89’)
35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Lacazette 66’)
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
20.) Shkodran Mustafi
17.) Cédric Soares
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
8.) Dani Ceballos
28.) Joe Willock
19.) Nicolas Pépé
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
30.) Eddie Nketiah
Brighton & Hove Albion team:
26.) Robert Sánchez
33.) Dan Burn
4.) Adam Webster
5.) Lewis Dunk
34.) Joël Veltman
24.) Davy Pröpper
8.) Yves Bissouma
13.) Pascal Groß
10.) Alexis Mac Allister
16.) Alireza Jahanbakhsh
Brighton & Hove Albion subs:
23.) Jason Steele
20.) Solly March
3.) Ben White
49.) Jayson Molumby
11.) Leandro Trossard
7.) Aaron Connolly
18.) Danny Welbeck
29.) Andi Zeqiri
9.) Neal Maupay