After the heights of the win last weekend, Arsenal were brought back down to earth yesterday after a pretty impressive Brighton performance and a display of our own which was below par.
The hosts have started the season impressively – and win would have taken them level with leaders Chelsea – so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they made life difficult for us. They pressed well, made it really tough for us to play it out from the back, and when your goalkeeper is forced to kick it long towards a defence with an average height of double-decker bus, you’re not going to get much change out of that.
Bukayo Saka beating three men before firing a shot straight at the keeper, but it quickly went the other way, and that was Saka’s best contribution. To me, he looks tired, and asking him to compete in the air with Dan Burn wasn’t a great tactic – not least because he’d already shown that he had the measure of him if we got the ball in behind. Saka picked up a late injury, maybe a hamstring strain, and with apologies to all England fans, I hope it’s just enough to keep him out of their upcoming internationals, because I think he could use a rest.
Brighton had more possession, and more territory, and we can be thankful their finishing was off. It was deep into the second half before they put one of their many attempts on target. In a game like this, you need your experienced players to be on their game, you can’t carry passengers, and unfortunately right down the spine of the side that’s what we did. Thomas Partey, Martin Odegaard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were a long way from their best, and that made it nigh on impossible for us to change the momentum of the game in any significant way.
It’s not as if we didn’t have moments, but they were few and far between, and when they came it was almost always down to Emile Smith Rowe who was again the stand-out player for us. He had our best chance in the second half too, forcing a save from Sanchez at his near post. He did have Saka free at the back post, but when you watch again you have to give credit to the defender who completely cut out the angle for the pass – he really had no option but to take it on and shoot.
Brighton had more bite, they competed better, won the second ball more often, and too many Arsenal players were casual and just not at the level required. That said, I do think Ben White and Gabriel deserve credit for their performances. That’s a Brighton side with real aerial threat, and they had plenty of corners/set-pieces to deal with, and bar one header from Dan Burn I think they coped very well. White was good in the air, something he’s been questioned about, while Gabriel was solid on the ball, making more passes than any other Arsenal player on the night and not shirking his defensive duties one bit (he even lost a tooth after being clattered by their keeper).
A word too for Aaron Ramsdale who had a difficult looking moment in the first half (although I think it was about 20% iffy goalkeeping and 80% a foul on him), but made up for it with a genuinely outstanding save late on. Brighton won a header at the back post, it was headed across for that little git Maupay to just tap it in for what would certainly have been the winner, but Ramsdale stuck out a big hand to claw the ball away from him. Shades of David Seaman’s save against Sheffield United in the FA Cup, at least in terms of the style, and that was a moment which probably saved us a point.
His post-match interview on Sky Sports is well worth a look too:
“Personally and collectively the performance needs to be better.”
“It is a gritty result. We could have easily crumbled, but we showed heart and passion to be resolute.”
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) October 2, 2021
Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:
I think it’s a point gained because I don’t think we deserved anything more than that. If we did deserve that point it’s because we defended really well the last 15/20 minutes. But in general we never felt in control of the game, we struggled to break the press and get good sequences of passes in the final third. They made it really tough for us.
Can’t argue, anything more than a point would have a complete smash and grab, but if we’re looking for things to be positive about, it is a point away from home and a clean sheet. I know it’s impossible to say for sure, but I’m not sure this is a game we’d have seen out last season, Indeed, there were some similarities between last night and the opening day when we faced Brentford, and we know how that went. Some key personnel are different now, and I do think that made a difference.
Nevertheless, the poor performance is still a worry. I don’t think it’s as simple as the three key players I mentioned before playing poorly – both full-backs struggled too so that didn’t help either – but we need Partey and Odegaard in particular to control proceedings, and neither could provide enough technical or physical security. Hopefully it’s just an off night for both and we see much better from them when we play again after the Interlull.
So, not the three points we were looking for to keep the momentum going, but in the absence of that, ensuring we took something from the game was important. Plenty for Arteta to work on during the upcoming two week break, keep fingers crossed those going away come back unscathed, and we go again.