Arsenal (0) 1 Brighton and Hove Albion (1) 2
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Saturday, 9th April 2022. Kick-off time: 3.00pm
(4-3-3) Aaron Ramsdale; Cédric Soares, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Granit Xhaka; Martin Ødegaard, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Emile Smith-Rowe; Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette, Gabriel Martinelli.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Rob Holding, Nicolas Pépé, Nuno Tavares, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah, Miguel Azeez, Zak Swanson, Omari Hutchinson.
Scorers: Martin Ødegaard (89 mins)
Yellow Cards: Bukayo Saka
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 65%
Referee: David Coote
Assistant Referees: Ian Hussin, Nick Hopton
Fourth Official: Robert Jones
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Chris Kavanagh; AVAR Sian Massey-Ellis
For this afternoon’s match with Brighton, we will be without Thomas Partey after he sustained a thigh injury in last Monday’s defeat to Crystal Palace. Sadly, both full-backs Takehiro Tomiyasu and Kieran Tierney remain out of contention for this match, with the latter undergoing surgery on his injured left knee this week. Today’s game is yet another crucial must-win match (they all are at this stage of the season, of course) as we need to keep up the pressure if we are to finish in the top four Premiership places in a couple of months’ time.
Immediately from the kick-off, we took the match to the visitors when Lewis Dunk was put under pressure by Alexandre Lacazette, but somehow managed to pass it back to Robert Sanchez safely. The match appeared to have a strange atmosphere about it quite early on, almost an end-of-season feel, when players won and lost the ball quite casually, which is quite alarming, to be fair. Our supporters also feel this, as they tried to lift the spirits of the players by chanting and singing, but they do look rather sluggish in the early stages. On the twenty-fourth minute, there was a great chance for Bukayo Saka as the ball was pulled back from Gabriel Martinelli, but sadly Emile Smith-Rowe did not get a shout until it was too late and ended up getting in his way, which was unfortunate. A couple of minutes later, Bukayo Saka curled in a superb ball from a free-kick and it landed right on the head of Gabriel at the back post; it looked like a certain goal, as he was so close, but somehow it went into the side-netting. Just before the half hour mark, we went one down when a loose ball found Enock Mwepu, who quickly slotted it back to Leandro Trossard; he merely controlled the ball and whacked it into the top right corner from an unmarked position in our own penalty area. The goal appeared to wake the match up a bit, and after a period of huffing and puffing, a good chance came to us eight minutes before half-time when a Granit Xhaka pass bounced off Enock Mwepu and quite naturally came to Emile Smith-Rowe, who attempted to take a shot, but Yves Bissouma ran across the penalty area to get a crucial block on it at the last minute. Although the visitors put us under pressure, it was us that provided the talking point just before the break. A corner from Bukayo Saka was headed back across the goal by Gabriel, and out of nowhere, Gabriel Martinelli was on the goal-line to help it over but there were strong appeals from Brighton for offside. The Stockley Park VAR team appeared to take an age to make a decision, but when they did (after an outragous four minutes), they decreed that the goal should be cancelled out for offide, which was a rather flat way of going into the break.
Literally just minutes after the restart, Albert Sambi Lokonga was brought down by Enock Mwepu just outside the penalty area and as such, we were awarded a free-kick in a very good position indeed; however, disappointingly Cédric Soares’ free-kick went straight into the Brighton wall and bounced off one of our players for a goal kick, and then Bukayo Saka received a yellow card for simulation from referee David Coote. We dominated possesion for a while, and after a corner, Ben White almost got on the end of a dipping ball from the right but he could only flick it past over and beyond his team-mates. We retained possession well and switched it across the back and shortly afterwards Cédric Soares cut the ball back to Martin Ødegaard and his shot was deflected behind for a corner. A very frustrating period for the boys. In order to zip things up at the front, Emile Smith-Rowe was replaced by Eddie Nketiah with nearly thirty minutes of the match remaining, and a couple of minutes later, Bukayo Saka wasted a great chance to score when his shot flew way over the visitors’ crossbar, which was very frustrating to say the least. Twenty-four mintues before the end of the match, the unthinkable happened. Again. After some good link-up play out on the left wing by Brighton players, Moises Caicedo cut the ball back to Enock Mwepu and he fired a strong shot past Aaron Ramsdale and into the bottom left corner of the net. Disastrous. The crowd at the Emirates started to show their dissent, as the match descended into a bit of a kicking match from both sides. As the match started to move towards its obvious conclusion, we appeared to wake up. Bukayo Saka moved in towards the Brighton goal out on the left wing, and then cut it back towards Nicolas Pépé (who replaced Gabriel Martinelli a few minutes earlier), but Robert Sanchez got just enough on it and Tariq Lamptey clears it with the help of Lewis Dunk, and then Albert Sambi Lokonga absolutely smashed one from around twenty-five yards and it whizzed just past the top right corner and into the crowd. Unblievable drama when Martin Ødegaard’s free-kick was tipped onto the crossbar by the goalie. It somehow rebounded to Eddie Nketiah and he volleyed it onto the crossbar and into the crowd. How unlucky were we? Two minutes from the end of the match, Martin Ødegaard, who hit the bar just seconds earlier, absolutely belted the ball from long range and it deflected off former Gunner Danny Welbeck and into the top left corner of the net. An excellent goal in anybody’s book, no doubt about it. In the six minutes injury time, despite some pressure and some great efforts from both Bukayo Saka and Albert Sambi Lokonga, the match ended in our tenth Premiership defeat of the season. Woe.
Overall, it was the final act of a terrible week for Arsenal Football Club at the wrong end of the season. Two defeats (both in London), two of our key players out of action for the foreseeable future, and a massive doubt hanging over our Champions League credentials, which, this time last week, was seemingly flying high and bolted on. A week is certainly is a long time in football. We may well had sixty-five per cent possession, but the stark fact that out of twenty shots on the visitors’ goal only four were on target, speaks volumes for our forwards today. At times we were extremely lacklustre, to say the least, and the last thing we need at this time is to start a bad run of results, because at this point in the season, we may not recover in time to grab a European place at the end of the campaign. We need to beat Southampton convincingly at St. Mary’s next Saturday (as Chelsea did today) in order to put this brace of bad results behind us. Or else.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Southampton at St. Mary’s Stadium on Saturday, 16th April at 3.00pm(Premier League). Be there, if you can. 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.