It wasn’t pretty for long stretches, but Arsenal did enough to prevail 1-0 over Brighton & Hove Albion. The win gives the Gunners their first back-to-back league wins since the opening two matches of the season. Given Arsenal’s poor form and Brighton’s somewhat strange dominance of the Gunners lately, it’s a very good result. Definitely not one you’d have “expected” Arsenal to win.
In fact, saying Arsenal “did enough” to win today might be a bit unfair. The Gunners went long stretches, especially in the first half, where the attack lacked ideas, but it wasn’t as if Brighton were breaking down the door, either. Bernd Leno was asked to make one good save in the first half, which he did. Other than that, the Seagulls didn’t really threaten. In all, it looked like a match between two tired, leggy teams.
In those types of matches, you’d rather be the side with the more skilled players because often it’s a moment of individual brilliance that carries the day. Today, it was Bukayo Saka who provided that magic coupled with a tidy finish from Alexandre Lacazette to earn the points. Saka collected the ball around midfield, beat his man, carried it 30+ yards, and found Lacazette, who’d just been substituted onto the pitch. Lacazette had intelligently broken off his run and found a pocket of space just inside the 18, and he took his time (which he had) and slotted it home.
I’d have to rewatch the match to determine whether Arsenal’s improved attack was more down to Mikel Arteta’s halftime adjustments or Brighton coming out of their shell, but there was a marked difference from the 1st to the 2nd 45-minutes. It’s probably a combination of the two. It was clear that Arsenal were moving the ball faster and breaking quicker. I’d guess that there was at least a minor adjustment to ensure that Gabriel Martinelli and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spread out a bit more and stopped playing on top of each other. Both looked lost in the first half and more threatening in the second.
I’m still worried about Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. I’m giving him a bit of a pass today because he’s coming off an injury, but he still looks miles off the player he was last season. Final ball delivery isn’t necessarily one of his strengths, but today, his passing in the attacking third was particularly poor. I’m going to reserve judgment while Arsenal appear to be sorting out consistent attacking patterns, but his play is high on my watchlist.
Emile Smith Rowe had another solid game for the Gunners and in my book, has earned himself another start. He’s got some things to clean up — that backheel deep into the second half was a poor decision — but that will come with time and experience. He does things that nobody else on the roster does, which makes him important. He also has a high workrate and the ability to cover enough ground that Arsenal can press higher up the pitch, which they did several times today. I think they have to keep pressing and keep running hard to be successful, and Emile Smith Rowe helps the Gunners do both those things.
Props to Rob Holding and Pablo Mari for another solid defensive effort. There’s not much doubt in my mind that Gabriel gets his place back when he’s available to return, but it’s comforting knowing that Pablo Mari is a serviceable backup who isn’t going to have me watching matches through clenched fingers. I thought Hector Bellerin had a strong game as well, including two or three really good pieces of 1-on-1 defending, which isn’t his forte.
Arsenal are entering a spell of “easier” matches after the 7th toughest schedule in the league coming into today’s match. They’ve got West Brom (A), Crystal Palace, and Newcastle in the Premier League before a run of tougher matches. Thomas Partey is getting healthier and could return sometime during that spell. Those three matches will set the tone for the second half of the season and will make the difference between getting back towards a European place challenge or playing out the string stuck in the mid-table, nervously eyeing the relegation zone.