And the hits just keep on coming for Arsenal. The Gunners did more than enough to get a point against Brighton & Hove Albion at the Emirates today. In fact, they probably did enough to win. Instead, it’s a 2-1 loss.
The Gunners out-chanced Brighton, creating nearly 3 expected goals on the afternoon. The Seagulls managed less than 1. As has been the case for Arsenal, they did not finish their chances. And unfortunately, Brighton bucked their trend of being similarly poor finishers to convert two chances.
Brighton’s first goal was a product of the Granit Xhaka at left back experiment. Lewis Dunk hoofed a clearance up the pitch to nobody in particular into a vacant area where you might expect a left back to be. Xhaka was pushed up the pitch for...reasons. The Gunners also might have missed Thomas Partey on the goal (or maybe even having Xhaka at the left-side #8). Nobody in the midfield tracked the late-arriving Leandro Trossard, who found himself wide open from the penalty spot to score. I know Xhaka’s not the best at picking up runners, but he’s better than Emile Smith Rowe at it, who was in no-man’s land on the move.
There’s not much to be said about the Brighton second. It was a nice attacking move and an extremely good (and unlikely) finish from Enock Mwepu. You could give him 500 attempts to replicate that shot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he can’t pull it off again. That’s the level of luck that Arsenal are contending with right now. Speaking of luck, Eddie Nketiah hit a crossbar. He’s hit the woodwork four times this season, the third most of any player in the Premier League despite his limited minutes.
To be fair, Arsenal did get a good bounce on Martin Ødegaard’s goal — a massive deflection off Danny Welbeck looped it into the top corner.
But don’t worry, the balance of bounces and decisions still comes out massively against the Gunners. Gabriel Martinelli had what looked to be an equalizer at the end of the first half chalked off by VAR for offside. I’ve yet to see the camera angle that shows Martinelli was offside. He may have been, he may not have been. I don’t think a single camera angle exists that definitely shows. The best you can do is to extrapolate the position of the second defender by combining multiple different camera angles, and even then, you cannot conclusively say whether or not Martinelli was offside. The VAR took four minutes, one of the longest reviews of the season, to decide that he was and to take away an Arsenal goal.
While we’re on refereeing, David Coote gave Robert Sanchez a yellow card for time-wasting in extra time. He then had to tell him to put the ball back into play two more times. The final whistle blew exactly at 6 minutes added. Please explain to me how that works. Yes, it’s a (very) small thing that probably makes zero difference in the final scoreline. It also should never happen. There is no justification for it. It is indicative of a referee who hasn’t got a clue what he’s doing. And there will be zero repercussions for Mr. Coote.
You know what, no. I’m not done with the refereeing. Marc Cucurella committed three fouls on the day. Two of them were for clattering Bukayo Saka. Either easily could have been a yellow card. One came in the first half shortly before Martin Ødegaard was booked for what you could generously call a similar challenge. The announcer had questions about whether the challenge was even a foul, yet the Arsenal man was booked. The Brighton man was not.
These decisions matter! A lot! Imagine if the outside back defending Bukayo Saka is on a booking for 60 minutes of the match. That creates time and space. He has to back off to avoid risking the second yellow. Cucurella is able to play a completely different game knowing that he’s not going to be sent off for an errant, mistimed challenge.
To pour salt in the wound, Bukayo Saka was booked for diving on a play where he was clearly caught by the defender. He did go over rather easily, but it’s a stretch to book a guy for diving on a play where there was contact. And take all that together. The man marking Saka clatters him twice, no booking. Saka gets booked for diving on a play where there was contact. What kind of message does that send to the rest of the Premier League? Because to me, it says (as we’ve known), that it’s open season on Arsenal’s skilled players.
This is what I’ve been talking about all season. Arsenal are getting no help. They aren’t playing well enough (and might not be good enough yet) to overcome all those 50-50 decisions coming out the wrong way. Today, they didn’t play well in the first half. They also had a would-be equalizer controversially ruled out. Even at the half makes a pretty big difference compared to down a goal, chasing the match. Are Arsenal that open defensively at 1-1 as they were a 1-0 down on Brighton’s 2nd goal? Maybe not.
A few more thoughts on the things Arsenal can control:
- Sambi Lokonga as a single pivot did not work out. Some of that is down to Brighton working to deny the ball going into him from the centerbacks and some of that is on him misplacing a few too many passes. Sambi might have had an easier time (and Arsenal played better in the first 45) if one of Emile Smith Rowe or Martin Ødegaard had dropped deeper to make themselves available.
- Granit Xhaka at left back did not work out. Arsenal needed his presence in the midfield to control the flow of the game with Thomas Partey out injured. Mikel Arteta doesn’t trust Nuno Tavares enough right now to play him at LB. Fine. That’s his decision as a manager.
- Fair play to Mikel, he recognized that things weren’t working and changed things up to start the second half to get Granit Xhaka into the midfield. That worked. Arsenal looked better.
- Alexandre Lacazette hasn’t scored from open play in over 20 hours of Premier League football. He didn’t have a shot on goal today. He clearly cannot do the things that Arsenal need him to do.
- What’s the alternative? Eddie Nketiah? What has Nketiah shown to suggest that he deserves the spot over Lacazette? Without seeing what goes on in training, it concerns me that Nketiah hasn’t wrested the spot away from Lacazette already! That says nothing good about Nketiah, unless you assume that the fault lies with Arteta for not evaluating his players correctly. Either way, we’re getting close to the “anything has to be better than this” point with Lacazette’s performances. And I’d also remind you that, no, not anything has to be better than this. Swapping Nketiah in for Lacazette could very well prove worse for Arsenal overall.
The good news is that Arsenal still more or less control their chance at finishing top four, but there is zero room for error. They have to beat Tottenham in the North London Derby and overturn some goal difference. It would really be nice if Spurs could drop a point or two on the way in. The Gunners can still do it, but it’s looking less and less likely by the match.