After a disastrous performance against Crystal Palace on Monday, Arsenal needed to bounce back as quickly as possible.
Arsenal’s recent resurgence had come undone at Selhurst Park and the recovery from hat, would also be hampered by the news that Kieran Tierney would miss the remainder of the season, Thomas Partey could meet the same fate and Takehiro Tomiyasu is still not available for selection and may not be until the end of the month at the earliest.
As a result, Mikel Arteta was forced to deviate from his winning formula, seeing Granit Xhaka deputies at left-back, while Martin Ødegaard dropped deeper into midfield to partner Albert Sambi Lokonga and Gabriel Martinelli was part of the front three.
Arsenal started very poorly. It wasn’t quite as bad as their start at Crystal Palace, but it was not far off.
The lack of a calming presence in midfield meant that Arsenal found themselves easily overrun. Lokonga and Ødegaard simply couldn’t handle Brighton’s shape, press or intensity and they were able to reach the Arsenal defence fairly easily.
It didn’t take long for Arsenal to be exposed. Predictably, the left-hand side was undone. Granit Xhaka was unable to deal with Enock Mwepu’s pace and the Zambian slid a slide-rule pass across the Arsenal penalty area for Leandro Trossard to calmy lash into the back of the net to give the visitors a deserved lead.
Arsenal really didn’t seem to know how to respond from there, with bizarre patterns of play from the players predictably coming to nothing.
It wouldn’t be an Arsenal game without some kind of refereeing farce and this was no different. Following a corner, Gabriel Magalhães headed the ball across the penalty area for Gabriel Martinelli to head home for the equaliser.
However, after a 5-minute long VAR check, the goal was ruled out for offside. A ridiculous call and one that seemed to have even the Brighton supporters wondering what on earth VAR could have seen to have ruled it out, especially as the broadcast angles were hardly conclusive.
In the second-half, Arsenal seemed to improve. Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Martinelli seemed to rotate who would play as the left-back, which caused the opposition confusion and seemed to allow Arsenal a chance to get back into the game and reclaim the midfield.
But no sooner had Arsenal started to show a bit of gusto, were they undone. Poor defending on the right-hand flank this time allowed Brighton space and the ball was pulled back for Enock Mwepu to volley home a stunning goal for the visitor’s second and truly sink Arsenal.
Arsenal began to fight back with real desperation and though the likes of Martin Ødegaard and Albert Sambi Lokonga had efforts that came close to testing goalkeeper Robert Sánchez, Arsenal never really looked likely to get back in the game.
A freak deflection off former-Gunner Danny Welbeck from Martin Ødegaard’s shot gave Arsenal a consolation goal back, but Arsenal seemed to know that it was too little too late and their tactics to rescue a point in the last five minutes were beyond bizarre. Going short from a corner, only to then play it back to the player who took the corner who isn’t onside was one of many strange ideas Arsenal had.
The final whistle rang out, as did the boos around the Emirates Stadium.
It’s a bitter blow to Arsenal’s top-four chances and it now means that Arsenal are no longer in control of their own destiny as they head to St. Mary’s Stadium next.
Of course, the individual performances were not great, but the blame for the result lies squarely at the feet of Mikel Arteta.
A bizarre tactical set-up that only seemed to weaken Arsenal’s already balsa-enforced midfield. Xhaka looked utterly out of his depth at full-back and his substitutions were in the wrong order and for the wrong people.
Injuries have of course forced him to switch things up a bit, but these changes felt unnecessary. It seemed as though Arteta had inherited Pep Guardiola’s penchant for overthinking the game and trying too hard to outfox the opposition, rather than calming the ship.
Nuno Tavares’ performance at Crystal Palace had hardly been worth talking about, but this felt like the game to get him back and to restore some calm to a restless midfield, but alas, Arteta opted the other way.
The result felt like the defeat to Crystal Palace in Unai Emery’s first season, which Arsenal lost 2-3. Overthinking the opposition, a toothless showing at home, key players left on the bench, necessarily jumbling the defence and leaving a porous midfield.
Arsenal need a result now and, with the way things are going, a double game week with trips to Southampton and Chelsea, couldn’t have come at a worse time.
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
17.) Cédric Soares
4.) Benjamin White
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
34.) Granit Xhaka
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
8.) Martin Ødegaard
7.) Bukayo Saka
10.) Emile Smith Rowe (Nketiah 62’)
35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Pépé 74’)
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c)
1.) Bernd Leno
16.) Rob Holding
69.) Zak Swanson
20.) Nuno Tavares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
38.) Miguel Azeez
82.) Omari Hutchinson
19.) Nicolas Pépé
30.) Eddie Nketiah
Brighton & Hove Albion team:
1.) Robert Sánchez
34.) Joel Vëltman
5.) Lewis Dunk (c)
3.) Marc Cucurella
8.) Yves Bissouma (Lallana 74’)
12.) Enock Mwepu (Lamptey 77’)
13.) Pascal Groß
11.) Leandro Trossard (Webster 85’)
10.) Alexis MacAllister
18.) Danny Welbeck
Brighton & Hove Albion subs:
23.) Jason Steele
4.) Adam Webster
57.) Odel Offiah
2.) Tariq Lamptey
20.) Solly March
14.) Adam Lallana
17.) Steven Alzate
9.) Neal Maupay
60.) Jeremy Sarmiento