Classy Arsenal end bad run vs. Brighton to capitalise on Man City’s stumble in title race

LONDON — Arsenal‘s Premier League title hopes rest on finding improvements from last season and so Sunday’s 2-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion is an important step in that search for marginal gains.

Few teams have outplayed the Gunners to the extent Brighton have in the previous two iterations of this fixture. In May, Roberto De Zerbi’s side dealt a fatal blow to Arsenal’s pursuit of Manchester City by registering a 3-0 win featuring six shots on target and 59% possession. Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta’s side were so bad that day he apologised for the performance to his club’s fans. The previous season, they were beaten in a different way as Brighton under Graham Potter sat back and waited for counter-attacking opportunities, picking off Arsenal with precision raids that fully merited a 2-1 victory.

In between, De Zerbi masterminded a 3-1 win at Emirates Stadium in the Carabao Cup. So there was a sense that Brighton had Arsenal’s number heading into Sunday’s game on a weekend when Manchester City had dropped points in a fixture of their own that has proved difficult in recent seasons: Crystal Palace at home.

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But if there were any doubts, Arsenal removed them in a dominant performance in which the only regret will be that they didn’t translate their superiority to the scoreline even earlier. Their level of control for more than an hour was total but they had to wait until the 53rd minute to open the scoring, Jan Paul van Hecke inadvertently flicking on Bukayo Saka‘s corner to the back post where Gabriel Jesus stooped to head home unmarked from close range. That corner came from a spell where Brighton failed to play out under pressure, goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen gifting possession to Declan Rice and triggering a move from which Arsenal almost scored.

There was a late flurry from Brighton either side of Kai Havertz‘s 87th-minute strike, but they had to wait until the 64th minute to have a shot of any description and were only still in the game at that stage due to some errant finishing.

The commanding nature of this victory in terms of everything other than the final score is a significant psychological boost for a side trying to prove they can be more robust in a title race than last season.

“We should have scored two or three goals [in May] and we didn’t,” Arteta said postmatch. “That was my concern at half-time again and [in May] the way we reacted to conceding that first goal and how we went down. Today we showed a real determination from beginning to end to beat them. We managed to do that.

“We had to patient but at the same time we had to be really determined against this team. The second you have doubts against this team they open you up, they start to frustrate you and dominate with the ball. We didn’t do that. We didn’t allow them to do that. We showed a lot of maturity, and a lot of intelligence.”

Opening up a five-point gap over City at this stage will only help that self-belief — even if such advantages can change rapidly over the Christmas period, given how many games take place — and it is especially relevant that Arsenal did so a day after Pep Guardiola’s side failed to beat Palace for the fourth time in six meetings at Etihad Stadium. City rarely lose at home but Palace left Manchester with victories in 2018 and 2021 and now draws in 2020 and 2023, following Saturday’s 2-2 draw. That result means City have only won one of their last six matches in the league.

The title race is shaping up to be more than a two-horse race at this stage, but Arsenal will judge themselves against the league’s benchmark for the last five years and there are encouraging signs in the context of what has gone before. This was the first time in 32 league matches that Brighton had failed to score. Only Arsenal (55), Liverpool (36) and Manchester United (36) have enjoyed a longer run in Premier League history.

Arsenal were still more profligate than they would have liked. Jesus is an undeniably talented player and every so often he produces moments of high class — Lewis Dunk is probably still in a daze after one sumptuous turn from the Brazil international in the second half completely took him out of the game — but whether he is clinical enough to win the Gunners the league remains to be seen. Similarly, Eddie Nketiah is an understudy yet to prove himself at the sharp end of the campaign and so there was at least some evidence here to suggest the clamour for Arsenal to sign a striker in January will grow in the weeks ahead.

Brentford‘s Ivan Toney is the club’s preferred target but there remain significant obstacles to pulling of a deal mid-season, not least the England international’s price tag which is expected to be in the region of £80 million.

Asked if Arsenal should have been more clinical, Arteta said: “Yes, but if we generate more, the probability for scoring will be higher. That’s the only thing that we can focus on. We have great players that can define games and finish actions.

“Today we needed too many — especially in big spaces — too many situations to finish the game. That was the fear, especially after half-time, that it could be one of those days because the moment you give something to this team they’ll take it.

“When there are teams that want to go man to man, there are huge spaces opening on the pitch. If you do the right things then you can run and we are a really good team there as well. I think the team is clicking because we are experiencing more and spending more time together.”

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