Arsenal 2-0 Brighton: Monreal and Iwobi make it easy like Sunday morning as Gunners win again
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Arsenal beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0 at the Emirates through goals from Nacho Monreal and Alex Iwobi.
It was a comfortable win on a day that the club celebrated the rich diversity of its fanbase by holding an Arsenal For Everyone event.
Sunday lunchtimes are normally reflective, placid affairs, with matches played at such an unappetising hour for top level sport reflective of that.
But a minute into the match we nearly had a contender for Arsenal’s goal of the season as Alexander Lacazette’s perfectly struck powerful long range drive thudded against Brighton keeper Mat Ryan’s left hand post when well beaten.
A goal would have been the perfect antidote to a slow Sunday.
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As it was it lifted the crowd, including the vociferous 3,000 away fans relishing their first trip to Arsenal since 1982/83, when they played twice, once against Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup semi-final. Their 2-1 win was a prelude to Gordon Smith’s late Wembley miss against the might of Manchester United with the score poised at 2-2 in the final minute.
His scuffed shot even spawned a fanzine ‘And Smith Must Score’ in sad homage to his doomed effort. The Seagulls were relegated long before the replay they lost 4-0 and have never been back to the promised land of the top table of English football.
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If ever a team – and more importantly its fans – deserved praise for their loyalty it is Brighton. With their beloved Goldstone Ground long gone – and how Gunners fans of a certain vintage recall a raucous FA Cup fourth round trip their in February 1988, when 15,000 made the short trip to the south coast – the travails the club has experienced in the wilderness made it surprising there is even a club in existence, let along thriving once again.
Long, joyless trips to Kent to play at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium, while the very existence of the Seagulls was being fought for by lawyers.
A dispiriting sojourn followed at the Withdean athletics stadium, before finally, through the pressure of fans – and their sheer determination – against the vagaries of local and national politics, a new stadium rose deep in the heart of the glorious downs near the town.
Their manager, Chris Hughton, is a perfect fit for the club, modest and hard-working who values the collective over individuality. It will be a long season for the newly promoted side at this level, but the club has solid foundations and a fan base the envy of many, far more established clubs in the Premier League.
If proof was needed that this is a workmanlike side with limitations that need to be addressed it was in the lead-up to Nacho Monreal’s 16th minute goal that put Wenger’s men 1-0 ahead.
The ball could and should have been cleared on a number of opportunities before the Spaniard fired off an emphatic right-footed shot, through a crowded box, for only his second Premier League goal, and his first at Arsenal.
He was following up a blocked shot by Hector Bellerin, who in turn was reacting to a Shkodran Mustafi effort that was stopped.
Two minutes previously the ever more powerful-looking Alex Iwobi – who looks as if he’s mutating from a welterweight to a middleweight boxer before our very eyes – hit a low drive that Ryan gathered.
But it was naïve to give Arsenal such space and time again, and Hughton’s side were duly punished. Not many expect results at places such as the Emirates, but it was poor defending that offered too much space and time to such a skilful team. They will learn however. They have to.
With ten minutes left until the Lacazette pounced on a slip by Brighton’s home-grown 25-year-old Lewis Dunk, to run on and shoot directly at Ryan. He could perhaps have taken a touch or two more to close the gap between him and the goal but the Australian shot-stopper had the angle covered and the score remained 1-0.
A flowing move from a Brighton corner involving four players – and not many more touches - swept the ball to an on-rushing Aaron Ramsey, whose close-range shot saw the off-balance Ryan keep the ball out with a foot.
During the break it was heartwarming to hear the comedian – and huge Arsenal fan – Matt Lucas speak so well about his love of the club. The strides the North London giants have made to make the club inclusive and accessible to all deserved to be hailed. It was fitting on Arsenal For Everyone Day the club celebrated the rich diversity of Gooners everywhere.
It was also good to hear the honorary president of the Gay Gooners share with the world the revelation he has an Arsenal carpet.
Lucas’ lucky charm worked on Sunday, for ten minutes after the break the game was made safe through Iwobi.
The 21-year-old who Wenger has great faith in because of his attitude and work-rate – if not strike-rate – got on the scoresheet. The Lago-born forward struck with an emphatic strike following neat interchanges around the edge of the box culminating in an impudent backheel from Alexis Sanchez.
It was fun, flair and clear-sighted efficiency all rolled into one to make it 2-0.
And how many times can you say that of Wenger’s men these days?
Sanchez then cut inside moments later, only being denied by the fingertips of Ryan.
It was Iwobi’s sixth Premier League goal, and fifth at Arsenal, a tally it hoped he will improve on – for if he can, Wenger really will have turned a promising young talent into a top player.
From the resulting corner Sead Kolasinac then had a header cleared off the line before the Aussie netminder then gathered a tame shot from the Chilean.
It was just a question of how many Arsenal wanted to score.
Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud came on for Alex Iwobi and Alexander Lacazette but unfortunately the changes – closely followed by Mohamed Elneny for Granit Xhaka – seemed to deflate the intensity rather than increase the pressure on Brighton.
No matter, three points and another win are all that mattered on the pitch today.
Wenger’s men can do no more than beat what is put in front of them. Until they meet a team that is prepared to test their character as much as their defence.
But until that happens – despite the encouraging form shown since the 4-0 rout at Liverpool in August – that Anfield result will continue to be Wenger and the team’s defining performance and result this season.