As predicted in yesterday’s pre-match, our away day trip to the seaside turned out to be tough going.
Brighton are flying high and full of confidence and they dominated proceedings yesterday. On the balance of play they probably deserved all three points, but that’s not how it works.
Resilient defending from Arsenal plus wastefulness on the part of Brighton’s attackers saw us heading back to London with a point in the bag and our recent unbeaten run continuing.
Arteta made only one change from the team that ripped the Spuds apart last weekend – Lokonga coming in for the injured Xhaka – and it may well have been a significant alteration.
Even so, we started very brightly, moving the ball quickly and running at the Seagulls with determination. Saka wriggled through a couple of challenges and into the home side’s box, Smith-Rowe was on the front foot and it felt as if we were carrying straight on from the North London Derby win.
That lasted about 10 minutes.
Then Brighton seized control of the game and never really let it go again. Their high pressing game forced us to mostly kick long and (as Ramsdale admitted in a post-match interview) when we did go long their giant centre backs gobbled up everything that wasn’t straight to our players’ feet (which was most of the clearances).
In possession Brighton looked like a team playing with the confidence that comes from knowing a win will take them to second in the table and they created numerous chances.
However, it is important to point out that these were mostly half chances, not open-goal misses. Our two centre halves had to work their socks off and both did really well.
Ben White was returning to the club he’d left in the summer and, as a result, was on the receiving end of some half-hearted booing from the home fans. I though he seemed nervous for the first 20 minutes but then settled down and was outstanding, as was his partner Gabriel.
New recruit Tomayisu, after a flying start to his Arsenal career, had a bumpier ride in this game and at left back Tierney seemed a little subdued again. Even so, both full backs worked hard for the full 90 minutes.
In central midfield Partey put in a shift and Lokonga looked comfortable whenever he was on the ball, but that particular pairing never managed to take control of the centre of the park for any protracted period. It made me wonder whether we were missing the solid platform that Xhaka gives us. For all his faults, the Swiss offers composure on the ball (most of the time).
Up front, apart from the odd moment, things just didn’t click. Perhaps the blustery, rainy conditions played a part, but our front four of Odegaard, Smith-Rowe, Saka and Aubameyang didn’t click the way they did against the Tiny Totts. Some of the credit for that must go to Brighton’s defending as a team, but we weren’t as sharp as we might have been.
The team had clearly been instructed not to try a committed high press when Brighton had the ball at the back, but it seemed an odd approach to the game. It meant we were sitting back almost on the half way line and allowing the home team to build up their attacks at their leisure.
Plenty for Arteta to work on.
In the end it was a relief to get away with a point, particularly as we’re heading into a two week international break.
Ramsdale – 7.5
He didn’t need to be too busy despite Brighton’s dominance but made a couple of key saves towards the end, including intercepting a ball that was heading to Maupay for a simple tap-in. He said afterwards that hs kicking was off and he wants to improve. His personality and commitment shone through again.
Tomayisu – 6
Worked hard but struggled at times with the Brighton press.
White – 8 (MoTM)
After a nervy start he settled well and dominated the centre of defence, making some excellent blocks and interceptions.
Gabriel – 7.5
He was fully focussed for the entire match and needed to be. His partnership with White is looking very promising and without their performances yesterday we would surely have lost.
Tierney – 6
Is it me, or does Tesco look a bit out-of-sorts? He got forward a couple of times early on to get dangerous crosses in, but his support for the attack dwindled after that. Perhaps it was just that Brighton were pressing so determinedly that he did not have the opportunity to get into the enemy half.
Partey – 7
Apart from his long distance shooting (which poses a serious threat to low flying aircraft) Thomas put in another classy individual performance even though we struggled to get any control in midfield.
Lokonga – 6.5
He looks comfortable on the ball and his commitment is there, but his lack of experience showed at times and almost put us in trouble once or twice.
Odegaard – 6.5
Worked hard as always, but he seemed to be the only Arsenal player attempting a high press (rendering it useless). He did not manage to influence the game as much as he did in the NLD.
Saka – 6.5
Some bright moments, but our inability to control midfield meant his chances to impact the game were few and far between.
Smith-Rowe – 7
Probably the pick of our attackers. Brighton had obviously spotted him as a danger man and made sure to trip him every time he looked to be getting away. A better referee would have booked someone early on for one of these small ‘professional’ fouls but Moss let them go.
Aubameyang – 6
Was caught on the back foot on a couple of the (rare) occasions when we threatened the Brighton goal and was incapable of holding up the ball when receiving it long. The way the game panned out we would probably have been better with Lacazette down the middle as he is better at holding up and laying off.
Pepe – 5
He got a full 30 minutes after coming on for Odegaard. I honestly can’t remember anything that he did.
Lacazette – 6.5
Replaced the ineffectual Aubameyang on 72 minutes and had a couple of moments where his hold-up play helped us relieve the Brighton pressure. No real sniff of goal.
Maitland-Niles – N/A
Came on for Saka in the 90th.