Arsenal revival continues with easy 2-0 win over defensive Brighton
LONDON -- Three points on Arsenal's 2-0 home win over Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday morning:
1. Arsenal continue their revival
With three wins in six days, it's clear that Arsenal are recovering from those dark days in August when losses at Stoke and Liverpool dredged up dissent in the wisdom of Arsene Wenger extending his reign. To follow Monday's 2-0 defeat of West Brom and Thursday's 4-2 Europa League win at BATE Borisov, Arsenal made a professional (and pretty much anxiety-free) job of beating Brighton.
Goals from Nacho Monreal and Alex Iwobi took Arsenal into fifth place, level on points with fourth-place Chelsea. Of course, there will be more difficult assignments than Brighton, who were at times painfully short of attacking intention and provided little in the way of entertainment for the loud contingent of fans who had travelled up from the South Coast.
Arsenal might have been ahead as early as the second minute, when Alexandre Lacazette's thrashing, swerving drive pinged off the post with Albion goalkeeper Mat Ryan beaten. The France international was seeking the honour of being the first Arsenal player to have scored in his first four home games but was denied by the woodwork and later by being substituted in the 71st minute, by which time the result was set in stone.
For long periods this was a session of attack vs. defence, with Chris Hughton's team sitting back and defending deeply, forcing Arsenal to try to find their way through. The first 10 minutes saw the home team with 77 percent of possession as a wall of yellow shirts soaked up pressure, but the breach was not long in coming. In the 16th minute, Monreal was the final player in a queue to try to drive the ball into the Brighton net after Granit Xhaka's free-kick had been nodded back into play by Lacazette.
Brighton players complained that Lacazette had not actually kept the ball in play but their case was dismissed and Monreal was free to celebrate the fourth goal of his Arsenal career. To the credit of Hughton's team, when chances to attack finally came, they did look as if they could be dangerous. Solly March rattled a post and Davy Propper drifted a shot just wide of Petr Cech's left post.
Having briefly located a cutting edge, Brighton began the second half in as defensive a style as they started the first. It was to prove fatal as Arsenal's pressure again told. The impressive Iwobi scored in the 56th minute from close range after an Alexis Sanchez back-heel had bamboozled Brighton's defence.
It was a goal that finished the contest, to complete a replenishing week for Arsenal: Another Premier League clean sheet here made it four in a row, and 10 points from a possible 12 have them back in the hunt for a return to the Champions League.
2. Iwobi takes his chance
With Mesut Ozil's knee problem still keeping him out, Wenger gave Iwobi the chance to play alongside Alexis Sanchez and Lacazette in an attacking trident. Iwobi, who impressed with a hugely disciplined performance in Sept. 17's goalless draw with Chelsea, was back after a thigh strain and added an energetic dimension. He fully deserved his goal, only his seventh for Arsenal, and it was a strike to answer the complaint that he does not supply enough end product.
A weak shot that followed a powerful solo run in the 28th minute had been a case in point. Meanwhile, the ingenious flick that set up Iwobi's goal might just be a sign that Sanchez is playing himself back into form. The Chile international has scored just once since his hoped-for move to Manchester City was denied. Here, Brighton's massed defence left him with heavy traffic to negotiate, but that impish assist reminded he is still capable of brilliance unattainable by others, and appeared to lift his confidence.
Having previously been peripheral, Sanchez began to cut in more often from his left-wing station, demanding the ball from colleagues, while there were signs that he and Lacazette are developing an understanding. Lacazette's historic goal never came, but the chances that fell his way usually arrived via the assistance of Sanchez.
3. Brighton pay for being too conservative
Brighton's hopes for the season stretch little further than survival, a task that will only be made harder by the lack of a striker. Glenn Murray, returning from injury, was only fit enough for the bench while Tomer Hemed, a goal scorer in last week's 1-0 defeat of Newcastle, was suspended for stamping on DeAndre Yedlin during that match.
Izzy Brown, on loan from Chelsea but absent since pulling his hamstring in the 24th minute of Brighton's opening match of the season, was their furthest player forward. A winger by trade, he's hardly the most natural of centre-forwards but did have Arsenal defenders scrambling when flicking on a header from a Pascal Gross free kick.
Such was Brighton's passivity that chances like that and March hitting the post came as a shock, while also suggesting Arsenal could be got at. Hughton is not known for an adventurous approach, preferring to concentrate on defence, and such a constrained philosophy eventually cost him his job at both Newcastle and Norwich. If he'd allowed Brown a little more support in those early stages, perhaps allowing his defence a breather rather than being overworked by Arsenal's perennial pressure, then Brighton might have gotten far more from this game and perhaps a result to boost confidence for the long fight ahead.
Murray eventually arrived on the field as a late substitute and caused problems for Arsenal; his wide header of Gross' cross showed what Brighton are missing.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.