Anxious Gunners survive Brighton onslaught to earn unlikely point
Brighton 0 Arsenal 0
Anxious Arsenal survived a series of threats to squirrel a point they barely deserved against in-form Brighton.
The only storms were swirling around the Sussex coast, with little from the visitors to suggest a pressing interest towards the top four – and the Seagulls will certainly rue a number of fine opportunities missed.
Arsenal’s lack of drive was all the more mystifying considering how they raised themselves to win the recent north London derby. Was this actually the same team?
Manager Mikel Arteta has every right to feel disappointed that most of his key players seemed a yard, or more, astray, but overall, hanging on for a point and weathering a lot of Brighton agitation is a fortunate consolation.
Graham Potter’s men should have been at least a couple of goals ahead during the first half but their profligacy caused a fair amount of frustration in the Amex stands.
Arsenal now sit ninth in the table. They survived, thanks to some good late saves by keeper Aaron Ramsdale, although it is questionable whether they will enjoy such luck on other occasions during this campaign.
The north London escape artists, having won their last three games – including last weekend’s memorable derby against a poor Tottenham – made just the one, albeit enforced, change. Granit Xhaka is out with a knee injury for the next three months and Albert Lokonga took his place on the left side of midfield.
Brighton, surprisingly, are a much talked about outfit of late, and the Seagulls went into this clash sixth in the table. A win would have seen them leap to joint top of the Premier League with Chelsea. So, plenty of incentive for the hosts on a day blanketed with wretched, blustery conditions. However, Potter’s team were fortunately to grab a draw at Crystal Palace last Monday, courtesy of a late leveller from Neal Maupay.
In the mood, Arsenal declared their intent straightaway, when Bukayo Saka manage to create space for himself inside the Brighton penalty area only to fire a shot straight at home keeper Rob Sanchez. As it happened, such hunger all but faded throughout the vast majority of the game from the visitors’ perspective.
If that was fair, early, warning for Brighton, it was heeded, and they settled down to enjoy reasonable possession with Leandro Trossard causing momentary danger for the Gunners when he dragged a shot wide from ten yards out in the 15th minute.
Lewis Dunk, the Seagulls’ skipper, made a mess of a real opportunity five minutes later when he really should have taken advantage of Ramsdale fumbling a dangerous Maupay cross from the left. Yet somehow he blasted over – a real let off for the Londoners.
Events took a slighty jarred complexion, the fierce gales certainly didn’t help matters for purists - and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang was the guilty party at the other end when he failed to finish off good work from Saka. The Arsenal captain nodded the ball against the bar, albeit from a tight angle.
Brighton upped the tempo impressively, showing imagination and control as they kept Arsenal pinned back. In the space of a couple of minutes both Trossard and Dan Burn served up significant warnings only to miss the target. Former Seagull, Ben White, was making his first appearance back at the Amex since moving to north London for £50m in the summer, and his former team mates were supplying major tests of his resistance. Brighton’s aggression and composure was simply not being matched by Arteta’s side, increasingly drifting towards the end of the first half.
Emile Smith-Rowe and Kieran Tierney did show hints of purpose for Arsenal in the minutes before the interval but their final ball, and Brighton’s organisation, kept things scoreless.
Could Arteta infuse the Gunners with much needed spirit, at the break?
Apparently not. So much was passing by supposedly influential figures like Thomas Partey and Lokonga in the middle areas, and Brighton midfielder Jakub Molder curled a decent shot just wide from the edge of the penalty area after the restart.
Aubameyang was ploughing the proverbial lone furrow and the evening proved to be increasingly one of irritation for the striker, with Arsenal a shadow of the effervescent side which blew Tottenham away.
Nevertheless, with Potter’s men lacking vital incision to reflect their general control, there was always a chance for the Gunners on the counter-attack. Poor finishing from distance by Partey, was a justifiable source of annoyance from the travelling support. It was also no surprise to see Arteta moving to send Pepe on for the anonymous Martin Odegaard.
Another change for Arsenal – Alexandre Lacazette came on for Aubameyang in 72 minutes with Arteta trying to imbue freshness into a jaded outfit. Smith-Rowe drew a good save from Sanchez in a rare attack. Fortunately for the Gunners, they found Brighton were tiring in comparison to their earlier efforts.
Still, Ramsdale did thwart a raking drive by Marc Cucurella with the clock ticking. There was only one team interested in providing a killer blow – and, regrettably, for the Seagulls, their battling only earned them a point in the end.
Seagulls: Sanchez, Cucurella, Dunk, Maupay, Trossard, Gross (March 83), Lallana, Moder (MacAllister 77), Duffy, Burn, Veltman
Gunners: Ramsdale, Tiereney, White, Partey, Gabriel, Saka (Maitland-Niles 89), Odegaard (Pepe 62), Smith-Rowe, Aubameyang (Lacazette 71), Tomiyasu, Lokonga