That was a comprehensive 2-0 Arsenal victory over Brighton & Hove Albion, a side that has given the Gunners fits lately. The nil-nil halftime scoreline might have had some worried — the “Arsenal profligate, opponent opportunistic” narrative is an all-too-common one that has seen the Gunners drop points — but if you dug a bit deeper into the first 45 minutes, it was a commanding performance. The type of half that, if the match continues in the same fashion, sees a side take full points overwhelmingly frequently.
Gabriel Jesus opened the scoring early in the second half, heading home after Jan Paul van Hecke’s attempted clearance off a corner instead lifted the ball over Bart Verbruggen’s punch attempt. The set piece goal brings Arsenal’s total to 10 on the season, tied for the most in the Premier League with Everton.
Arsenal were perhaps a bit fortunate that Brighton didn’t draw level late on. Pascal Gross sent an excellent chance, the Seagulls only good chance of the game, wide at the near post. David Raya might have had the shot covered if it was on frame. Regardless, it’s about time the Gunners get a bit of good fortune with an outplayed opponent not converting on their one promising attacking move of the match.
Minutes later, Kai Havertz sealed the points for Arsenal, sliding the ball underneath Verbruggen on a breakaway to keep his good scoring form rolling (4 goals in 7 matches). It was an excellent quick-strike goal. Leandro Trossard did really well under pressure and forced back towards his own goal. Instead of passing backwards and inviting more pressure, he held the ball and eventually found Martin Ødegaard with a clever reverse pass to start the break. Ødegaard passed to Eddie Nketiah who, instead of playing the easier pass out wide to Bukayo Saka, took a couple extra touches and picked out Havertz with a killer through ball.
Martin Ødegaard, who turned 25 today, had an excellent match, particularly in the first half. With the hip problem that was plaguing him earlier in the season behind him, Ødegaard has rediscovered his form from last season. The attack is humming along as a result, helped by Gabriel Jesus’ return to the lineup, as well as Declan Rice contributing more and more on the ball each match.
At this point, it almost goes without saying — Declan Rice had a fantastic game. He does it all on both sides of the ball. Today, he had multiple impressive runs through the midfield, beating the first man and carrying the ball 30-40 yards himself.
William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes were excellent, completely shutting down young phenom Evan Ferguson. Ben White is still not at his best, although his defensive play today was negatively impacted by an early soft yellow card that put him on the back foot.
It was slightly annoying that James Milner, who after being repeatedly toasted by Bukayo Saka took his first opportunity to clatter the Arsenal winger, was not similarly booked. It was also annoying that Karou Mitoma was not booked for waving an imaginary yellow card on the foul that got White booked. We were told that was to be an automatic booking this season. I guess we’re not doing that anymore.
Roberto De Zerbi also waved for a caution on the play in question. He wasn’t booked either. But that didn’t stop the referee for booking Mikel Arteta for remonstrating after, a few minutes later, Mitoma pulled Bukayo Saka back.
Fortunately, the consistent inconsistency is a footnote today. Arsenal dominated Brighton, scored two goals, and claimed a fully deserved three points. Right now, the Gunners are the best team in the Premier League. Hopefully Arsenal play like it next weekend at Liverpool. In fact, three of Arsenal’s next seven matches are against the Reds — two in the Premier League and one in the FA Cup. Those matches are likely to determine the fate of the rest of the season.