It’s no fun being an Arsenal fan at the moment. Never mind trying to delete the City vs Arsenal game from memory, Arteta’s side now have to remember how to keep a lead and close a game out. During the Brighton v Arsenal game, they did neither, drunk on a spectacular goal from Pepe (68), they left the gate open for the Seagulls to pull off an unlikely 2-1 win.
Yet, my first thought before the game was that I never want to see Arsenal play in the blue/gold kit at the expense of their traditional red and white again. Normal service was resumed with the Gunners in their most famous kit at Brighton’s Amex Stadium, which incidentally had been used for Covid-19 testing weeks earlier.
Arsenal had contracted their own virus this week against Manchester City at the Etihad. The symptoms included lethargy and lack of ambition and coach Mikel Arteta hoped for a quick recovery.
Well, the early signs were good with the poodle haired Guendouzi eating up the pitch and spraying the ball forward. One fabulously creative long pass met the flying boot of the acrobatic Aubameyang, but the scissor kick was poor. Had there been a crowd, there would have been a “wooo”
7 minutes into the Brighton v Arsenal fixture and Aubameyang was missing by an even more impressive margin with the ball rocketing high into row Z. The overall impression at that stage was that the striker might struggle to find himself on the scoresheet. In fairness, Aubameyang had already surpassed his efforts against City, where he’d been largely anonymous for the entire match.
Two minutes on and Saka, who hadn’t covered himself in glory or enhanced his reputation on a wet and woeful Manchester evening, rattled the bar. The goalkeeper was reduced to the role of a relived onlooker and Brighton could breathe easily for now.
If Arsenal were to get anything out of the Brighton v Arsenal game, they had to lose Lewis Dunk, whom many Arsenal fans wanted the club to sign in the last transfer window. If Brighton were to escape relegation, the solid-looking defender had to make a significant contribution, which in turn would keep them in the elite division.
There was a greater sense of urgency about Arsenal this time around and one felt that if Brighton were to beat Arsenal, then the Gunners may well have to present them with a gift or two. With Luiz suspended, the chances were greatly reduced but Arsenal are a side that can implode in any game, even if they’ve been dominating it.
Around the half-hour mark, the tempo of the Brighton v Arsenal game increased with a well-deserved booking for Burn who upended Pepe, followed swiftly by a Lacazette header courtesy of a Saka cross that Mat Ryan had to palm away.
Then in two minutes, both Saka and Leno felt the physical impact from Brighton, and immediately, I was transported back to the games against Stoke City, where the stretchers came on in pairs.
Yves Bissouma was judged not to have hacked Saka with any great or malicious intention and then Leno came off second best after colliding with a Neal Maupay. The most consistent player at the Emirates, Bernd Leno, looked in serious trouble writhing around in pain. It was obvious that this could be the end of his afternoon and probably worse, his season. The German soon left the field and one wondered if Arsenal could technically run out of players by the end of July.
The thuggery continued with Mooy taking out want-away Spaniard Dani Ceballos for a token yellow card. Brighton had to calm down in the second half or they could finish the game with 9 men.
Then, just before half time Lacazette and Aubameyang combined, the Frenchman providing a cute backheel that would merit a goal. Adam Webster made a crucial tackle to snuff out the best chance of the match, but almost everything was coming from the feet of Saka. I concluded that if Pepe did half as much in the second half as Saka did in the first, then Arsenal were capable of burying Brighton.
Two games into the rebooted season have so far resulted in a suspension and three injuries thus far, you couldn’t make it up.
As the second half of the Brighton v Arsenal tie got underway, the Seagulls became the equivalent of a fire blanket, snuffing out the danger with ease and asking the odd question here and there. Arsenal supporters must have been whooping in their lounges or gardens when Aubameyang fired into the Brighton net (52), but it was disallowed for offside. A slim and crucial decision.
I’ve not been the biggest fan of Lacazette and Aubameyang as a partnership on occasion because they’ve not exactly complemented each other, but this game saw a level of great understanding.
Even better was Nicolas Pepe’s moment of individual brilliance. The man with the big price tag had been as quiet as a mouse on cotton wool and suddenly, he came to life as the game slowly limped towards a draw.
Saka played in the Ivorian (68) who produced an exquisite curling shot that was far too good for Ryan, but Arsenal’s ability to trip themselves up resurfaced in the 75th minute. Maupay’s effort was cleared by Holding but it went straight to Dunk, who made sure it made the net for the second time if asking.
You could almost hear thousands of groans in homes across the country. However, Pepe had lit the blue touch paper for Aubameyang to crank up his contribution. He came to life from the 80th minute sensing his 50th goal was within touching distance. He produced a firecracker of a shot that had Ryan sprawling. 3 minutes later, he was denied by Dunk who deflected over a goal-bound effort.
Then the sucker punch arrived as Arsenal searched for a winner. Maupay took flight and dinked a great ball over Martinez from Connolly, which was a cruel blow after the collision with Leno. It seems that the villain of the panto can sometimes be the hero, but Arsenal players will see it differently after he injured the one man who could have potentially stopped Arsenal from losing.
But here’s the truth, it was Dunk that got Brighton what they needed and he showed exactly why Arsenal should have stumped up the cash for the underrated Englishman instead of David Luiz.