In a strange night of football, Brighton beat Arsenal 1-2 at the Emirates Stadium.
The Seagulls picked up their first away win since the opening game of the season and Arsenal remain in 10th place. What did we learn?
1. Arsenal need guile, not graft
Whenever a big team is struggling, especially if that team is Arsenal, a big criticism is always that they don’t work hard enough. That they get out-grafted by opponents and this is why they lose. It would be easy to say that about Arsenal against Brighton, but it’d be wrong.
Arsenal worked quite hard against Brighton. They responded well to the adversity of going a goal down and came flying out at the start of the second half. They ran hard, they tackled well. Could they have worked harder? Sure, but energy wasn’t the issue. Their problem? They’re not good. Or rather, they are good individually, but they are not organised to be good collectively.
None of the Arsenal players know what to do in their roles, and there’s no consistency in selection either. Mesut Ozil began as a right-winger before moving to No.10. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang played all across the front-line. The lack of consistency hurt their build-up play which was erratic and thus easier to contain from a Brighton point-of-view.
The attackers weren’t in the right places to hurt Brighton so when they had the ball they were tepid. As a result, they threw too many men forward to try and force the issue, meaning that key men were out of position when Brighton broke on them. It was a chain reaction of chaos that cannot be solved by simply running around and “wanting it” more.
2. Maupay the Killer
Brighton basically matched wits with Arsenal at the Emirates. Certainly, the first-half was an even battle, and even in the second when the Gunners laid siege to their goal, the Seagulls still managed to create chances on the break. However this is the same story as against Liverpool at the weekend, and we know how that turned out.
This has been Brighton’s problem: their lack of goalscoring. They create chances but those chances are not converted. In both halves tonight, Brighton out-shot their hosts, and for 80 minutes they would have worried things would be going their usual way.
Then Neal Maupay stepped up. Sure he was the club’s top scorer so far this season, but his total is just four goals. Tonight he missed a couple of chances but he never let that get to him. He kept on moving into space and taking his shots, and eventually he was rewarded. Aaron Mooy sent in a delicious cross and Maupay rose to brilliantly guide the ball into the back of the net. Could he become the killer Brighton are desperate for in attack? As tonight showed, it would transform their fortunes.
3. Graham Potter owns the Emirates
Graham Potter has managed two games at the Emirates Stadium and won them both. He’s proven more capable in Arsenal’s back yard than Freddie Ljungberg has! Last year he brought unfancied Ostersunds to North London and left with a 1-2 victory in the Europa League. Now he brought unfancied Brighton to the Emirates and left with a 1-2 victory.
Brighton didn’t just out-hustle the Gunners, they out-thought them much in the same way that Ostersunds did the same in 2018. They out-shot Arsenal 20-12 across the 90 minutes. That is ridiculous. Ljungberg needs to win three games at home to have more wins at the Emirates than Potter, and given that his next three home games are against Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United – the Swede could be waiting until February before their own manager has more wins at the Emirates than Brighton’s brilliant boss.
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4. Connolly needs to look up
Anthony Connolly was one of the brightest sparks on the pitch at the Emirates tonight. For the 75 minutes he was on the field, the Irish teenager was a constant force on the break. The way he drove hard at the Gunners every chance he got was encouraging and his movement made him so elusive Arsenal found him hard to keep track of.
Just as well for them, then, that Connolly used the ball so poorly. The teenager, quite understandably given his age, played with his head down. This allowed him to make a mockery of Arsenal’s defensive presence but also meant that he blew two fantastic chances to give team-mates clear 1v1s with Bernd Leno.
On time it was Maupay and Connolly delayed the pass enough to allow Arsenal to intercept (which visibly angered Maupay) and then in the second half it was Mooy, and Connolly straight-up just didn’t even see him. Obviously he is very young, but for now he remains a frustrating talent who, should he learn to lift his head, could well become a fabulous one.
5. Arsenal need a real coaching change
Arsenal fans took to blaming Unai Emery for all of their ills, and to be sure he wasn’t doing well with the North London side. But the issue ran deeper than the Spaniard. For years Arsenal’s recruitment policy was basically non-existent, they just signed players to do it and often they had no plan in how they would play them together.
This has left them with an extremely talented squad, but one that is top-heavy. There are no elite defenders, in fact one could argue there aren’t even any good defenders (though that’s harsh). For a side that plays with attacking wing-backs, they’ve not really created a midfield shape that allows their defence to be protected, so teams can simply walk through the likes of Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira as though they aren’t there.
Torreira is perhaps the best example of how Arsenal’s problems ran deeper than Emery. The Uruguayan showed at the 2018 World Cup that he can play a holding midfield role, so why hasn’t he ever done that for Arsenal? Where is that discipline in his displays for the Gunners? Obviously, the initial reaction was to blame Emery, but he’s gone and Torreira is still playing so loose.
That Ljungberg hasn’t made that obvious and much-needed switch confirms Emery was not the only problem. Sure, the Spaniard was struggling and a change of management was needed, but Ljungberg, an internal hire on an interim basis, was never going to be that change. He’s shown so far that he is incapable of even providing a new manager bounce, and the Gunners have now failed to win in their last nine games, and Arsenal are left still waiting for the coaching change that could save their season.