Arsenal (0) 2 Brighton and Hove Albion (0) 0
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Sunday, 23rd May 2021. Kick-off time: 4.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka; Nicolas Pépé, Martin Ødegaard, Emile Smith-Rowe; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Bukayo Saka, Dani Ceballos, Alexandre Lacazette, Alex Rúnarsson, Cédric Soares, Pablo Marí, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli.
Scorers: Nicolas Pépé (48 mins, 60 mins)
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 55%
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Assistant Referees: Marc Perry, Timothy Wood
Fourth Official: Dean Whitestone
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Simon Hooper; AVAR Derek Eaton
Attendance: A maximum of 10,000 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions
And so, we finally come to the last day of the 2020-21 season, which by my calculations, is Matchday 57 for the boys. As we know, the maximum points that we can accrue for the season is sixty-one, which should take us into seventh place in the Premiership, and a UEFA Europa Conference League place to boot; but obviously other results are dependent on this, and at the time of writing, the only thing that Arsenal can do is emerge victorious from today’s match with Brighton and Hove Albion. Let’s go!
Great to see ten thousand supporters back into the Emirates today, and as the match kicked off, it was superb to hear live vocal suppprt for the team after all this time. We started the stronger of the two teams, applying pressure on the visitors almost immediately; after five minutes, Thomas Partey came agonisingly close to scoring when his twenty-yard shot flew inches wide of Robert Sánchez’ post. Over the next few minutes, both Martin Ødegaard and Nicolas Pépé went close with scoring attempts, and although we played the better football today, the visitors appear adept at soaking up pressure, mainly in an order to try to catch us on the rebound. In essence, the harder we tried to score, the further it seemd to elude us. The match was mainly played in the Brighton half, with Arsenal players literally lining up to shoot from distance, close-up and free-kicks, and somehow Robert Sánchez managed to keep out all of our sterling efforts. Ten minutes before the break, the visitors counter-attacked, and a good attempt to score by Jakub Moder was blocked succesfully by Rob Holding, but thankfully, the corresponding shot by Lewis Dunk went high and wide to the right of Bernd Leno’s goal. A couple of minutes before the break, Granit Xhaka put the ball into the visitors’ penalty area; the result of this was that Gabriel was unlucky not to score, when his header bounced off the crossbar, with the Brighton goalkeeper pushing the ball away for a corner. And so the first half finished goalless, when really, we should have been comfortably in front in this match.
The final forty-five minutes of this troublesome season started fairly much as the first one ended, with Arsenal playing the more urgent football of the two teams. And sure enough, three minutes after the restart, Calum Chambers received the ball from Granit Xhaka out on the right; he slotted the ball to Nicolas Pépé in the penalty area, who controlled it, and scored a fantastic goal with a strong right-footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left-hand corner of the net. Five minutes later, a penalty call was denied by referee Jonathan Moss when Martin Ødegaard was bundled over in the visitors’ penalty area after trying to get to a low cross from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and a little while later in a counter-attacking move from Brighton, although Yves Bissouma’s right-footed shot from outside the box narrowly went past the left-hand post, Bernd Leno had it covered. It mattered not; on the hour, Nicolas Pépé scored his second goal (and ours, too!) of the day when he received a clever ball from Martin Ødegaard in the Brighton penalty area, and coolly slotted it past the outstretched arm of Robert Sánchez and into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. In reply, Jakub Moder’s right-footed shot from outside the Arsenal penalty area was superbly saved by Bernd Leno, and a little while later, Thomas Partey was unlucky not to score our third of the day when his strong shot bounced off the crossbar and back into play. Emile Smith-Rowe was replaced by Bukayo Saka, and this change intensified the pressure on the visitors’ goal. With twelve minutes to go, Alexandre Lacazette replaced Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the pressure on the Brighton goal continued. Martin Ødegaard was substituted for Gabriel Martinelli with five minutes of the match remaining, and with a comfortable two-goal cushion, game management became the order of the day, right until the final whistle, which saw us worthy winners.
A good result, and a positive way to finish a truly awful season for us. Too little, too late. The truth of it, however much it hurts, is that we cannot turn up five matches from the end of the season and expect to just saunter into European competition next year. The final positions do not lie; you always get the placing that you deserve. Our finishing position in the Premiership was eighth this year (the same as last year), which is nowhere near good enough for Arsenal Football Club, I’m afraid. What hurts even more, is that our three major contemporaries in the capital have all qualified for European competition next year, and we appear to have become the “Aunt Sally” of London football now; after all, we only managed to get into the Europa League this season because we won the FA Cup the previous campaign, it was not because of Premiership position earned. And the owners of this club had the brass neck to try to be one of the inaugural members of the now cancelled European Super League! In the close season we need to regroup, take a look at ourselves and decide just who we are, and where we are going. Are we a big club, but not a top club? How are we going to be able to attract top players to the club if we are not in European football next year? Who knows where we are heading? One thing is for certain, it is going to be a strange season without European football next year for the first time since 1995.
Have a great summer everyone, see you all again in August. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.