Result: Brighton 0-1 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 29 December 2020
Venue: AMEX Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Mari, Tierney, Xhaka, Elneny, Saka, Smith Rowe, Martinelli, Aubameyang
Subs: Runarsson, Mustafi, Cedric, Maitland-Niles, Ceballos, Pepe, Willock, Nketiah, Lacazette
Alex Lacazette made an instant impact off the bench scoring the winner after a fine Bukayo Saka assist as Arsenal scraped a 1-0 win against Brighton at the AMEX Stadium.
The home side had the better of the first half but the Gunners were far sharper after the break and squandered three good opportunities before breaking the deadlock on 66 minutes.
It was a very different kind of win compared to the swashbuckling victory over Chelsea but Mikel Arteta won’t mind that, his side now have a bit of momentum.
Having found a winning formula on Boxing Day, Mikel Arteta decided not to shuffle his pack too much. Alex Lacazette dropped to the bench with captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, fully recovered from a calf problem, replacing him. Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe, both praised for their energetic performances on Boxing Day, retained their places.
As Brighton kicked-off, Aubameyang chased after the ball at full speed. He didn’t get anywhere near it, but if he was trying to set an example, it was promising. Unfortunately, it was about the best thing our captain did over the course of an incredibly turgid 45 minutes.
Both sides enjoyed long spells of possession in the opening stages. There was lots of passing back and forth by the respective defences but cutting edge was sorely lacking. The Seagulls at least mustered a few attempts on goal – mostly capitalising on Arsenal mistakes – in contrast, we didn’t test their keeper at all. The closest we came was a Xhaka free-kick fired over the bar.
Martinelli, Saka and Smith Rowe – the three musketeers who led the charge against Chelsea – were completely nullified. Behind them, Elneny and Xhaka, faced with the imposing figure of Yves Bissouma, became increasingly error-prone. At one point the Egyptian was caught on the ball just outside the box and Macallister fired over. It was a let-off.
As the half wore on, the home side grew in confidence and were it not for smart defending by Smith Rowe, who stole a dangerous cross with a sliding challenge, and a Leno save to deny Jahanbakhsh, we might well have been down at the break.
Brighton had a strong claim for a penalty inside two minutes of the restart as Dunk when down in the box as a corner was played in. VAR had a look and decided nothing untoward had happened.
On 50 minutes we finally put together a move of note. On the break Martinelli fed Saka down the left and he crossed for Aubameyang. Our striker connected first time on the run but keeper Sanchez got his knee in the way and the ball went for a corner. Auba just stood in disbelief.
A second chance fell to Martinelli two minutes later. The Brazilian cut onto his right foot and tried to find the top corner but his effort, possibly via a small deflection, sailed over. A third great chance went begging soon after. This time Auba curled over after another swift break involving Smith Rowe and Martinelli.
Compared to the first half, the game had really opened up and Saka was increasingly influential. His ability to turn on a sixpence and accelerate away from players forced Brighton onto the back foot.
After Leno got down well to deny Davy Propper, Mikel Arteta took the chance to make his first change. Lacazette replaced Martinelli and 21 seconds later the Frenchman had put us in front. Saka charged down the right flank and picked out the striker with a fine pull-back. He took one touch to control before calmly slotting home. (1-0)
Saka went down in a heap with 15 minutes remaining and needed treatment from the medical team. He was in considerable pain and initially tried to play on before being replaced by Ceballos. Smith Rowe went out wide and the Spaniard took up the number 10 role.
It was clear heading into the final 10 minutes that we were focused on defending what we had rather than pushing for a second. At one point, Bellerin found himself on the ball charging forward but when he looked up he realised there wasn’t another white shirt within 20-yards. He slowed things down and went for the corner flag.
The game played out in much the same vein during five minutes of stoppage. Brighton had lots of the ball and tried to work crossing opportunities but Holding and Pablo Mari dealt with everything thrown at them.
Six points in three days and consecutive wins in the league for the first time since September. It’s been a very solid festive period so far. We go again on the 2nd January against West Bromwich Albion. Happy New Year.