Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Arsenal 2-0 Brighton: Commanding Gunners make Seagulls suffer

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Arsenal finished the weekend top of the Premier League after a 2-0 win over Brighton yesterday. It’s a slightly strange one, because there was some frustration that we didn’t turn the attacking dominance into more goals, but the way we played was just so impressive.

When Roberto de Zerbi says afterwards, “We are not used to suffering like that”, you know you’ve been doing something right. From the off there was an intensity to our game that was eye-catching. This was a team determined to put right last weekend’s defeat to Aston Villa, but also one who wanted to make life difficult for Brighton.

I think they played pretty well, to be honest. They ended the game with more possession than Arsenal, and at times they played brave football, passing it around well as our terrier-like front five chased them from one side of the pitch to the other. That we didn’t go in at the break with a lead was down to a mix of very solid Brighton defending, finishing that wasn’t precise enough, and decision making in the final action that wasn’t quite where it should have been.

We had 15 shots in the first half, and some good chances. Gabriel Martinelli putting the ball over the bar from a Bukayo Saka cutback was frustrating enough, but the pass that sent Saka free from Martin Odegaard was one of the best you’ll see all season. The captain had previously curled a shot wide, Gabriels Jesus and Magalhaes both had efforts on target but which were easily saved, there were corners – and, when I talk about decision making and the final action, I’m sure Mikel Arteta will get the video tape out this week on the training ground. Late in the first half there was a chance for Martinelli to play it early to Saka, but he took it on and while the keeper made a save at his near post, the Brazilian made it more difficult for himself because of how tight the angle was.

The fact that the opener came early in the second half helped settle things down a bit. It’s quite funny to see a lot of chat about how Arsenal must buy another forward to help make the difference on the day when our number 9 got a very important goal. Like everyone else, I’m not against adding to this squad at all, but Gabriel Jesus was there at the back post to head home a Saka corner to put us 1-0 up. On a day when a number of players shone very brightly for us, and we’ll talk about them in a minute, I thought he was very good in terms of his all-round play, and the goal was vital. Yes, he could be a bit more prolific, but you can’t ignore the through-line between how well we played and his part in that.

After that, we should probably have scored more. Odegaard had a couple of goes, one of which was brilliantly blocked by Lewis Dunk’s special area. His face told the story. If you zoomed in on just his pained reaction and asked anyone in the world ‘Where has this man been hit?’, 100% of people would get the right answer. To his immense credit, he dusted off his aching nuts, and then produced a fantastic bit of defending to prevent a goal, clearing a Ben White header off the line from another corner.

Brighton made a triple sub to try and change things. Things remained the same. When Evan Ferguson went off, I realised Evan Ferguson had been playing. That’s a testament to how well William Saliba and Gabriel dealt with anything that came near our penalty area. Ahead of them, Declan Rice was unbelievable again. Having been a doubt for this game due to illness, he strode around the pitch like he owned it. That run down the left which resulted in a shot on target was sensational, and if that’s what he can do when he’s not 100%, watch out.

Kai Havertz headed over when he probably should have scored, Odegaard had a shot saved, and the only real moment of danger from Brighton came when Mitoma found Pascal Gross, but he put it wide from 6 yards out. How often do we talk about the fine margins of football games? The lesson there for Arsenal is that even if he had scored, it shouldn’t have mattered because we’d have already been too far ahead based on what we had created, but he put it wide so it didn’t matter in a different way.

Arteta sent on Eddie Nketiah and Leandro Trossard for Jesus and Martinelli, and the game was sealed after good work from the former Brighton man to keep the ball ticking in midfield. Odegaard played it to Eddie who took it on and sent Havertz through on goal. I don’t know if that was exactly the finish the German international had in his mind, but either way it went in, his good recent form continues, and the three points were in the bag.

Substitute Emile Smith Rowe might have added some icing to the cake late on but the keeper made a save, and had he scored, I don’t think anyone could have argued that 3-0 didn’t do Arsenal justice. Questions about our finishing are perfectly valid, but I think you have to give some credit to the way Brighton defended, and overall my takeaway from this is just how much we dominated a team as good as that throughout the 90 minutes. This was the first time this season they’ve failed to score a goal, and bar that late chance they never looked like getting one. On the flip side, if we’d scored a couple of more, it would have been a truer reflection of how this game went.

Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:

I think it was a phenomenal performance with a great feeling as well because of what happened last season, and the demands that Brighton put on you. I think the team was outstanding today from the start to the end, and thankfully we deserved to win the game, and we won it.

I was concerned because I think we had 15 shots in the first half and we had so many open situations to put the ball in the back of the net, but we didn’t, and this is the Premier League. We kept going in the second half, and in the end we found two very different goals, a great way to score them and I’m really happy today.

I also enjoyed his explanation after being yellow-carded in the first half, saying ‘I was waving at Martinelli!’

He’s right to be pleased, and the fact he mentions the concern he had with attacking efficiency is good to hear. It’s something we can improve on, and if we do, somebody is going to be on the end of a complete hammering from this team. It’s no harm to be able to acknowledge where you can improve on a day when you’ve taken all three points and gone back to the top of the league.

I already mentioned Rice (although he was so good maybe I should do it twice, like he’s a footballing New York or something) and Jesus, but it would be remiss of me not to mention Martin Odegaard. His return to form and fitness and Arsenal’s increased attacking fluency is no coincidence. He was outstanding yesterday, some of the touches and passes were just top class. He is the oil in our attacking engine, and when he’s on his game, he elevates those around him – which is no mean feat when you consider the talent level we’re talking about here.

So, all in all a very good day at the office. Yes there are things we can do better, but from my perspective, that’s more a cause for optimism than concern. I’d be far more worried if we weren’t making chances, and let’s not overlook how Brighton have caused us problems at home in recent times. To win this one the way we did was very impressive, and sets us up nicely for a trip to Anfield on Saturday.

Right, let’s leave it there. We are recording an Arsecast Extra for you of course, so keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Podcast should be out around lunchtime. Until then.

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