Result: Arsenal 2 – 0 Brighton
Competition: Premier League
Date: 23 May 2021
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Leno, Chambers, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney, Xhaka, Partey, Smith Rowe, Odegaard, Pepe, Aubameyang
Subs: Runarsson, Mari, Cedric, Elneny, Ceballos, Saka, Martinelli, Nketiah, Lacazette
Arsenal ended the season with a flourish thanks to a competent performance and two excellent goals by Nicolas Pepe. After a first half where Arsenal treaded water, Pepe hit two expertly taken goals within the first 15 minutes to secure the win for the Gunners.
Other results in the league dictated that Arsenal ended the season on 8th place, just outside of a European place.
Arteta looked to finish the season strong with the same defensive setup that faced Crystal Palace. In midfield, Xhaka returned to partner Partey in midfield while Odegaard took Saka’s place in attack, pushing Smith Rowe to play down the flanks.
Aubameyang spearheaded the forward line once again with support from the mercurial Pepe down the right.
The match started at a brisk pace – Brighton showed why they have been the neutral’s favourite as they started as the stronger team. The Gunners couldn’t win the ball back from the away team who built up play and kept the ball excellently but just couldn’t find a cutting edge.
But within minutes, Arsenal wrestled back advantage and played with fluidity not often seen this season. The possession on the ball led to decent long ranged attempts by each of the three central midfield players, with Partey’s almost hitting the target after evading the keeper. After a season of horrible shots from range, it would have been lovely for the Ghanaian to finally have his effort hit the back of the net in front of the Emirates crowd who returned to the stadium for the first time this season.
Arsenal continued to pile on the pressure with Partey, Odegaard and Chambers the main protagonists in the build up. The first real chance of the goal, ironically, came from a set piece. Holding looked to have poked home the first goal of the game on the 30th minute from a Partey flick on. However, the defender was adjudged to have been offside when the touch was made by Partey.
The home team’s next best chance came just before half time from Arsenal’s other central defender, Gabriel. Xhaka did well to clip the ball towards Gabriel who stayed high up in the penalty box after a corner kick. Gabriel looped the header towards the far post, catching the Brighton ‘keeper off guard, but the ball could only hit the crossbar.
It was a decent first half to watch as both teams showed fluid build up play and slick passing. That said, Arsenal were the more dominant team who created some half chances in attack. For the second half, they had to add more pace and cutting edge to their dominance if they wanted to end their season with a win for the home fans.
It took Arsenal only 3 minutes in the second half to finally add some of that cutting edge to their attack. Just like with Crystal Palace, Pepe was the protagonist. The ball bounced into the air as Pepe received the ball with his left foot. The Ivorian expertly volleyed with his weaker right foot to bury the ball into the net with so much pace that even two goalkeepers would have found it hard to have kept it out. 1-0 Pepe.
Though it wasn’t only Arsenal who had their tails up in this half. Brighton made dangerous attempts and Alexis Mac Allister almost equalled the score with a blistering counter just minutes after but could only shoot wide from an acute angle.
However, fear of squandering the lead was put to bed by Pepe again. Often profligate in possession, he again showed his killer instinct in the box as he received the ball down the right hand side of the penalty box . Despite the pathway to goal seemingly blocked by defenders, Pepe somehow managed to squeeze the ball into the far post with a casual swing of his left foot – a testament to the subtle but supreme technique applied by the forward. 2-0 Pepe.
By the 70th minute, Arsenal could have been three up but luck seemed to elude Partey once again. Xhaka fizzed in an eye of the needle pass through a crowded group of players right into Partey’s feet just outside the box. The Ghanaian produced a half turn and a powerful strike but the ball crashed against the bar and away from goal.
The final minutes of the game was an exercise in keep-ball as Arteta brought on Lacazette, Saka and Martinelli for Aubameyang, Smith Rowe and Odegaard.
Overall, a good performance to end a pretty awful 2020/21 season. Let’s hope performances like these are more commonplace in the next campaign.