Arsenal lost 3-0 to Brighton & Hove Albion at the Emirates, essentially ending the Premier League title race with a whimper. Manchester City need 2 points from their remaining 3 matches to clinch another boring, purchased title. The Gunners just didn’t have it today, and Brighton did. The visitors were excellent. They put in one of their best performances on the season.
The consensus on the broadcast, in the studio, and online was that Brighton were the better team in the first half and that Arsenal were off their game. I disagree, as do the numbers, and did Mikel Arteta. The manager spoke exclusively about how poor his team was in the second half and didn’t have much criticism for the opening 45 minutes.
A tale of two halves at Emirates Stadium @Oracle | #ARSBHA pic.twitter.com/kyLlfO8VIS— Premier League (@premierleague) May 14, 2023
Arsenal were the better team in the first half, they just lacked the cutting edge and finishing that they’ve shown in most of the other matches this season. Brighton, on the other hand, scored three when they had the better of the action. That was the difference in the match.
The Gunners lost one of their difference-makers early in the first half, too. Gabriel Martinelli, who should have seen a yellow card for colliding with Karou Mitoma on an aerial ball, was on the receiving end of a retribution tackle from Moises Caicedo. The challenge was a nasty one — sliding, from behind, and not particularly close to the ball — and even though Martinelli tried to stay on the pitch, he had to come off a few minutes later and was seen in a protective boot after the match.
Caicedo was not cautioned, which was consistent with Andy Madley’s permissive approach to the first half. The sad irony is that had Madley properly cautioned Martinelli for the challenge on Mitoma, Caicedo might not have taken justice into his own hands. The physical, disjointed play to open the match coupled with Martinelli forced off early likely contributed to Arsenal not finding their best attacking rhythm in the first half.
There is this tendency to expect a team to play “their way” in every match, regardless of how that match plays out. You’d hope that they find a way to score and win in spite of any particular set of circumstances, but with this young, tired bunch it’s understandable when they don’t. And to say that Arsenal were bested for 90 minutes is flat out inaccurate.
The script flipped in the second half. Brighton were really good, and Arsenal were poor. The visitors got their opener on a play that, on another day, might have been called back by VAR. Enciso scored from a free header because Jakub Kiwior, who would have been able to either cut out the cross or in be position to mark and put Enciso off (and I fancy the 6’2 defender’s chances against the 5’8 attacker), had been stepped on by a Brighton attacker. The contact, while possibly accidental, was significant enough to rake the back of Kiwior’s ankle and rip his boot off. But Arsenal got no such help from VAR.
Brighton got a second goal in the 86th minute off an extremely fortunate bounce. Leandro Trossard came under pressure and played the ball quickly. His pass / clearance attempt was partially blocked and happened to fall right in the path of Deniz Undav, who had a clear run at goal. The Seagulls added a third deep in added time. I hardly even remember what happened I was so checked out at that point. Jakub Kiwior stopped tracking back for a second or two, and Ben White was slow to get over.
There were a few notably poor performances for the Gunners. Leandro Trossard had easily his worst game for the club. Coming on as an unexpected injury replacement early in the first half is difficult, but there is no excusing or explaining how poorly he played. Maybe he was in his own head about facing his old team. Maybe he just had an off day, like a lot of players did. But he was bad.
Ben White was not great, either. Karou Mitoma consistently beat him on the dribble. Brighton’s best chance in the first half came down his side. Their opening goal in the second came from the right. And White didn’t contribute anything of note when Arsenal were in possession.
But the worst performance has to be Thomas Partey, and he came on as a sub! I don’t know what’s wrong, but I don’t think that Mikel Arteta can keep trotting him out. He doesn’t seem to be able to run at full speed. He missed challenges in midfield and looked to be loafing back instead of trying to make a recovery run. You almost hope that he’s hurt because the other explanations are worse. It seems like he’s given up. Y’all know I don’t like to question player’s effort on the pitch, but it really looks like he’s hardly trying right now.
I had hoped that the excellent performances against Chelsea and Newcastle were an indicator that Arsenal had found just a little bit more to give down the stretch. It seems like the long, grueling season has taken it’s toll on Arsenal’s young, deeper-than-previous-years-but-still-thin roster. There are injuries in key places and most of the other guys look a little bit less-than. They seem tired and not as sharp.
Fortunately, the final two matches of the season are against teams that should be on the beach. Both Bournemouth and Wolves are already assured safety, don’t have anything to play for, and don’t have the quality that Brighton does. It would be nice for Arsenal to end the season with two more wins. This lot deserve it. It’s been an incredible season. If they get to 87 points, that’ll be the most since the Invincibles. One more win matches the Invincibles’ total, two betters it. That would be quite the accomplishment for this bunch.