For most of the 0-0 draw at Brighton, Arsenal did not look good. They struggled with the press, didn’t apply much pressure the other way, and generally looked off. But Aaron Ramsdale and the defense did their job, limited the Seagulls to possession without much threat, and the Gunners took a point from The Amex.
It’s a bit of a disappointing performance for me because Brighton really weren’t all that impressive. Their movement is flashy and they press well, but for all that, they didn’t manage much in terms of real threats towards Aaron Ramsdale’s goal. Their defense is suspect and was there for the taking. Arsenal didn’t take advantage.
At the same time, Brighton have started the season well. As I said, they press really well and that press caused Arsenal problems. Most would tell you they played a good game today. So it stands to reason, then, that getting a draw away, especially with some of the poor performances from key Arsenal players, is a decent result.
The Brighton press certainly played a part in stymieing the Arsenal attack, as did their clear tactic of fouling anytime it looked like the press would break. But “credit” to them - if there isn’t going to be meaningful punishment (yellow cards) for tactical fouling, why not take advantage of it. But let’s circle back to those poor Arsenal performances, because they were absolutely killer.
Thomas Partey, Martin Ødegaard, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were awful today. They were so poor on the ball you wonder if they’d left their touch in London. Again, some of that is down to the press, but some (most?) of it was just they didn’t play well. It’s really tough to generate anything in attack if the players meant to touch the ball the most can’t keep hold of it.
Arsenal definitely missed Granit Xhaka. They missed his composure on the ball, him making himself available as an outlet, and his passing, generally. Sambi Lokonga’s inexperience was exposed. He is still learning where he’s meant to be both in possession and out of it. That will come with time (and of necessity with Xhaka on the shelf), but he didn’t do Kieran Tierney any favors. And to be fair, Tierney has been bang average this season.
Also “exposed” was a bit of limitation in Takehiro Tomiyasu’s on-ball ability, especially in the first half. But the problems on both the left and right side of the defense against the press is as much on the midfielders, Partey, Sambi, and Ødegaard, as it is on the fullbacks. The men in the middle were not making themselves available and giving their teammates multiple passing options, which forces the ball into a cul-de-sac / press-point / whatever you want to call it. If the opponents press with three, you need at least three passing options, and Arsenal were consistently not providing those outlets.
As much as the defenders struggled in possession, they defended quite well. Brighton managed zero shots on target in the first half and just two in the second half. Other than one really good intervention, Ramsdale was unbothered.
Gabriel was absolutely massive (again), Ben White put in a solid shift, and Bernd Leno will be lucky to play again. That’s three clean sheets from four for Arsenal’s preferred defense, and it would be four from four but for conceding with Granit Xhaka being down with a serious injury while Tottenham unsportingly played on to score, unconcerned.
Of the attackers, Emile Smith Rowe was magnificent. Alexandre Lacazette was quite good as a substitute, and Nicolas Pépé, while I wouldn’t say he was good, made some stuff happen. I would have liked for the Lacazette sub to come earlier because it was pretty clear to me that Aubameyang, for whatever reason, didn’t have it today. Arsenal looked much better once they’d made the attacking changes, but we only got 20 minutes of it.
It’s a fine point for the Gunners. The next step will be finding ways to win away and getting full points while not firing on all cylinders. Right now, Arsenal aren’t in a place where they can put in a mediocre (at best) shift and win matches. Hopefully that will come. And it’s much better to pick up points while building towards that.