Result: Brighton 1-1 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 26th December 2018
Venue: AMEX Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Lichtsteiner, Sokratis, Koscielny, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Torreira, Guendouzi, Ozil, Lacazette, Aubameyang.
Subs: Cech, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Willock, Ramsey, Iwobi, Nketiah
Arsenal’s quest to finish in the Premier League top four hit another stumbling block as a stubborn Brighton side fought back from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s early goal to grab a 1-1 draw at the AMEX Stadium.
The Gunners were good value for their early lead but the home side bounced back before the break when Jurgen Locadia took advantage of terrible defending by Stephan Lichtsteiner to equalise.
Unai Emery made three early changes and switched formation in the second half as he looked to engineer an upturn in performance but neither side deserved a winner as the game descended into a horribly scrappy affair.
Still short on numbers at the back, Emery set the side up with a four-man defence with Kolasinac and Lichtsteiner taking the left and right full-back spots respectively and Koscielny and Sokratis forming a pair in the middle.
In midfield, Guendouzi and Torreira, both risked despite being one booking away from a suspension, buzzed around in front of Xhaka, as we looked to make a fast start.
Early efforts by Lacazette, a low drive from the edge of the box, and Aubameyang, a cute side foot lob after a great ball by Guendouzi, hinted at a side eager to stamp its authority on the game. The pressure paid off soon enough.
On six minutes, after some intricate twisting and turning in the home side’s box by Lacazette, the ball was worked to Aubameyang, possibly off a Brighton player, and the Gabon striker lifted the ball first time into the top corner. It was a clinical finish from our top scorer. (1-0)
After the quick start, we slowed things down and were seemingly content to control possession without committing too many players forward. Quite why we chose to be so passive when the game was there for the taking was ridiculously frustrating.
Having looked pretty dopey, Brighton started to come back into things. They might have had an equaliser on 23 minutes were it not for the whistle of referee Anthony Taylor, who signalled for a free-kick rather than a goal after Glenn Murray ploughed through Bernd Leno to bundle the ball over the line.
Despite the scare, we really should have doubled our lead on the half-hour mark, but Aubameyang couldn’t beat Ryan despite being clean through on goal by Torreira. That miss perked up the home crowd but it still took some ridiculous defending on our part to help the Seagulls grab an equaliser.
From an Arsenal corner, Propper, more in hope than expectation, launched a long ball over the Gunners defence. Lichtsteiner, under no pressure, decided it would be better to try and deal with the situation using his head but, rather than divert it to a team mate, he took the pace off the ball allowing Locadia to beat Leno to the ball and roll into an empty net. We’ve given a lot of soft goals away in recent years; this was up there with the worst of them. (1-1)
Alex Iwobi was sent on for the ineffective Ozil at half time, but the change did little to stifle the home side’s momentum as we made a very sloppy start to the second half.
It felt like we were barely able to put more than three passes together in attack as the game drifted along. Emery decided to hook Lacazette and instead tried his luck with Aaron Ramsey.
Periods of nice play were undone by impatient Hollywood passes that skipped out of play to be greeted by jeers from both sets of supporters. The boss’ face was a picture of concern as the clock slowly counted down. Again, he turned to the subs bench for an answer. This time Koscielny came off, Xhaka slipped into defence and Ainsley Maitland-Niles was charged with providing some pace and width on the right.
We looked a tad more comfortable playing in a 3-5-2-1 formation but still, the passing and control were poor. Maitland-Niles twice got round the back but couldn’t pick out an Arsenal man and Aubameyang looked to have escaped in the box but let the ball run loose. Ramsey offered nothing at all.
Brighton’s tactic of hitting long balls and waiting for us to panic nearly paid dividends again as March left Xhaka for dead and tried to beat Leno with a lob. His effort dropped over. Not long after, Locadia, collecting a diagonal pass, screwed another effort wide as Leno scrambled across his goal.
Our clearest chance of the second half came with seven minutes remaining when a clearance cannoned off Iwobi’s heel and flashed just past Ryan’s post. The Nigerian didn’t know anything about it, which was somehow fitting.
A point temporarily takes us to fourth above Chelsea, but the six-point gap between ourselves and City in third is concerning, especially when our next outing is against league leaders Liverpool.