Football Features

“This was the Old Brighton” – Five things learned as Arsenal profit from sloppy finishing to pick up a big point

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:53, 2 October 2021

In a rain-soaked evening of football, Arsenal scraped their way to a point with a 0-0 draw against Brighton.

The Gunners came in on a high but in the end were lucky to survive an onslaught of Brighton attacks. What did we learn?

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1. Ben White’s big day out

Ben White’s start to his Arsenal career has been less than stellar, and so when he rocked up to his old stomping ground to face his old side that are flying high in sixth without him, this had the feeling of a “Brighton show Ben White they’re better without him” kind of game.

And sure, Brighton were better than Arsenal and only their hysterical finishing stopped them from winning, but Ben White was a big part of why their defending was hysterical. The Arsenal defender was composed at the back in the face in unrelenting pressure in the rain, making a game-high 7 clearances as the Gunners were besieged by their bosts. And for all of Brighton’s dominance, they had just one shot on target.

Arsenal getting a clean sheet at the AMEX was a huge boon to the renewed vigor in their defence, and a lot of that is down to Ben White.

2. Marc Cucurella is amazing (and Barcelona are stupid)

Takehiro Tomiyasu has had a very impressive start to his Arsenal career, being a defensively solid player that stabilised the Gunners and allowed them to go on a winning run. Then he came to the AMEX and had to face-down Marc Cucurella.

The Catalan wing-back joined Brighton this summer for just £15.5m and has been great for his new club. This evening against Arsenal he was resplendent and relentless, torturing Tomiyasu every time he had the ball, sending in dangerous crosses and creating so much pressure. He ended the game with 4 chances created (a game-high) and 4 tackles made (second in the game). A monstrous force at both ends.

Cucurella’s brilliance is also a reminder that Barcelona were intensely stupid under Josep Bartomeu as they sold Cucurella for just €6m the summer they signed Junior Firpo for €30m. La Masia had provided them a free and fabulous heir to Jordi Alba and they decided to shunt him out and bring in a guy for whom there was no guarantee of success, who has now been moved on. Meanwhile, as Cucurella is rampaging up and down the left flank for Brighton, mighty Barcelona have to use their starting right-back on the left while Alba is injured.

3. Ramsdale wins the small moments

Arsenal have looked good since replacing Bernd Leno with Aarno Ramsdale but nowhere has that been felt more acutely than in their clean sheet at the AMEX Stadium. Now you may be wondering how this is the case as Brighton only had one shot on target? Well it wasn’t a save that marked out Ramsdale’s influence, but a clearance.

With just a couple minutes left on the clock, Brighton sent a cross into the box to the far post and it was headed back across goal. Neal Maupay was arriving to tap the ball in for his fifth goal of the season. There was no Arsenal defender on-hand to intervene. It was a goal, straight-up. But then Ramsdale did something goalkeepers don’t do enough, he jumped off his line and punched the low ball away as though he was saving a shot.

In a game where he had basically nothing to do all game despite his goal being besieged it was an impressively alert bit of goalkeeping and shows why the Gunners have promoted him. Ramsdale made of the right stuff, as well; after the match, he said: “personally and collectively, the performance needs to be better in terms of where we want to be,” which is a quote that shows the standards he holds himself too.

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4. Arsenal’s true level

After a miserable start to the season where they lost threes games in a row without scoring, Arsenal won four games in a row, including a big win in the North London derby against Spurs. That turnaround had Arsenal fans feeling hyped again, but it was kind of illusory.

Two of the wins were one-goal victories against the abysmal Norwich and Burnley, while the third was an EFL Cup win over lower league Wimbledon. The Spurs beatdown was definitely impressive, but, lads, it’s Spurs.

This game was them facing off against a superior side in Brighton who are five places and four points ahead of them and they managed to come away with a point and a clean sheet. This is Arsenal’s true level, where they’re not as good as the win over Spurs made them look but they are at the very least more solid than they have been in season’s gone past.

5. The Old Brighton

Brighton came into this game having won four games out of their six played so far. They were sixth in the table and could go joint-top if they had won, which on the balance of play they really should have.

Last season, Brighton finished 16th, just about surviving relegation. They were down that far despite playing the same kind of liquid football they have been this season. Why? Because their finishing was shocking. Their Expected goals (xG) for the season was 51.46, but their actual goal total was a mere 40. The only other team to undershoot their xG as badly as Brighton did were the relegated Fulham and Sheffield United. That speaks to how bad their finishing was.

This game tonight was reminiscent of that finishing, with Brighton scuffing and fluffing an avalanche of targets. Arsenal walked away with a point and they did work hard to get that point but in the end they were extremely lucky that The Old Brighton showed up, rather than the slicker new version that has fired them up to sixth.