A great tussle played out at the Amex Stadium last night but it wasn’t Arsenal versus Brighton, it was the Gunners against themselves.
Having come so far in victory over Chelsea just three days earlier, Mikel Arteta’s men were in serious danger of reverting to their former, dismal selves until a second-half fightback saw the bolder Arsenal triumph.
Quite apart from the difficulty of overcoming a game Brighton side, it was just as big a challenge for Arsenal to overcome their worst instincts but, crucially, they were able to cast off the shackles that have bound them for so much of the season to secure a momentum-building victory – and thank god they did.
I wrote in the build-up about the importance of following up the win over Chelsea with another three points on the south coast, not only to get into the winning habit but to begin to put some serious distance between ourselves and the teams around us at the bottom.
As good as the win over our London rivals was, it would have paled into insignificance quickly without another three points at Brighton. To that end, I expected us, having fielded the same team, to come out with much the same urgency and endeavour as we had seen against Frank Lampard’s men. Alas not.
Apart from an encouraging opening 10 minutes, an unchanged Gunners team inexplicably slipped into the sort of passive torpor that had afflicted them in that woeful run between November and Christmas. The ball was bogged down in a desperately slow midfield, the movement had ground to a halt, and the chances had dried up. It was appalling fare and we were fortunate that Brighton’s own lack of ambition and quality in attack meant we weren’t punished.
Things had to get better at half-time and, mercifully, they did. The Arsenal of the second half was akin to the one that had finished the Chelsea game. It was a side full of running, the passing was forward-thinking and ambitious, and the chances flowed. Whatever battle had broken out at half-time, it was won by the Arsenal that should have started the match, the Arsenal that was bouyed by the vigour of Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka, and the movement and guile of Emile Smith-Rowe.
From the resumption of play, the Gunners took control and never looked back. The only thing missing was a second goal to really add a layer of comfort to what was a tense last 10 minutes or so but, in the end, they did enough for the three points. In fact, Alex Lacazette’s deft finish was worthy of the three points on its own, such was its class – a real throwback to the early months of his Arsenal career.
Victory seemed a long way off as the half-time whistle blew but credit to Arteta and credit to the players for engineering a revival in the second half. It’s difficult to shake off the fear once it’s set in but they did just that. Having picked up back-to-back wins, they can now, hopefully, leave behind the safety-first football and look at imposing themselves on teams rather than being imposed upon. I realise, however, that until we can change some of the personnel in midfield, that will continue to be tough.
If it is to make this revival long-lasting and continue its steady progress up the Premier League table, this Arsenal side must pour all of its energy into the right battles. It must focus on battling the opponent instead of itself.