Arsenal’s disappointing return to action continued with a 2-1 defeat away at Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday.
After falling to a humiliating 3-0 loss to Manchester City earlier in the week, Mikel Arteta will have hoped for a reaction and a morale-boosting victory against the Seagulls.
The Spaniard was left wanting, however, with a beautiful Nicolas Pepe strike in the second half being cancelled out by Lewis Dunk’s equaliser after Arsenal failed to deal with a short corner, while Neal Maupay added to the misery with a winning goal deep into second-half stoppage time.
Furthermore, the Gunners’ injury crisis deepened even further as goalkeeper Bernd Leno was stretchered off after a collision with Maupay forced a nasty landing. Leno was quick to let the Frenchman know just what he thought of the incident as he departed the field.
It does not look like Bernd Leno's knee should be bending that way.
A serious-looking injury. pic.twitter.com/AgFYlfZL4v
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) June 20, 2020
Saka illuminates languid Arsenal
Despite being unable to hold on to the lead handed to them by their record signing, it was a product of Arsenal’s academy, Bukayo Saka, who offered Arteta some positives on Saturday.
Saka has enhanced his reputation tenfold throughout the course of this season with a number of standout performances both as a full-back and a winger. On Saturday, it was the free role he was given which helped him excel.
Lining up nominally on the left, Saka was encouraged to drift inside and work both in the half-spaces and in the creative role just off the forward line.
Throughout the first half, Arsenal looked to dominate down the left, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang moving onto the flank and Sead Kolasinac pushing behind to support. This allowed Saka to combine and interchange with the Gunners’ talisman to great effect, overloading the flank or driving into the central space vacated by Aubameyang.
The latter method came agonisingly close to yielding a goal for the 18-year-old, as Saka took the ball on the left before cutting inside and thundering a shot onto Matt Ryan’s crossbar. Regardless, Saka continued to be Arsenal’s main creative outlet throughout the first half, delivering a number of dangerous cross into the Brighton penalty area and proving a nightmare to pick up.
Saka’s positional freedom only increased after the break with the youngster seemingly intent on providing Arsenal’s largely ignored right flank with some much-needed excitement, drifting across to bring Pepe and Hector Bellerin into the game.
The youngster was finally rewarded for his efforts in the 68th minute, picking up the ball just right of centre and feeding it to Pepe, who cut inside and curled the ball beyond Ryan in exquisite style. Saka now has an impressive nine assists across Premier League and Europa League play this season.
Arsenal capitulate as Maupay plays the pantomime villain
It’s been a miserable old season for Arsenal and their struggles continued just seven minutes after Pepe had given them the lead. The Gunners made a comical attempt at dealing with a short Brighton corner and when back-up goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was only able to parry a Solly March cross into the six-yard box, centre-back Dunk was there to poke home an equaliser.
Graham Potter has won all of his last three games against Arsenal across all competitions:
✅ 2-1 (Feb 2018)
✅ 2-1 (Dec 2019
✅ 2-1 (Jun 2020
Potter works his magic again. 🧙♂️ pic.twitter.com/y9xvd7BlUq
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 20, 2020
Things went from bad to worse deep into stoppage time as Maupay — already the pantomime villain from an Arsenal perspective after his challenge on Leno — fired home to give Brighton a priceless win in their bid to stay in the Premier League.
As the final whistle blew, Arsenal players rushed to confront Maupay, who looked genuinely dumbfounded by the treatment he was receiving. After the match, Maupay incredibly urged the Arsenal players to “learn humility”.
“I never meant to injure him so I’m really sorry for him and wish him a speedy recovery, but Arsenal players need to learn humility,” he said. “They got what they deserved.”
Arsenal travel to Southampton in their next match and given how the Saints dispatched Norwich on Friday, Arteta will be wishing he had a team of Bukayo Sakas to take with him to St. Mary’s.
Brighton have a trip to high-flying Leicester City to look forward to on Tuesday.