Brighton 0-1 Arsenal: Goodbye and Good Riddance, 2020
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
And here it is. The final piece on this website in the surreal year that was 2020. A superb 12 months of progress for the site, as we produced almost 300 articles on the club we all love, with many high and low moments long the way. If you want to see a round up of the website's year, check out Rob's piece where he does so.
As for Arsenal themselves, they said goodbye to 2020 in the same way they started it- with a win. However, contrasting greatly to our new year's day victory over United, where we played Solskjaer's men off the park, dominating in all aspects, this was a gritty win that was well and truly ground out in unfashionable style. With wins relatively few and far between this year, particularly in the least few months, this victory should be cherished and celebrated in a difficult period.
After beating Chelsea on Boxing Day, the pressure was on Arteta to deliver wins in consecutive games for the first time since our opening two Premier League fixtures of this campaign. We've been largely successful in games against the top sides, so playing against a so called lower side who were likely to provide a different test was going to give us more of a definitive judgment as to whether we've begun to turn a corner. Despite the congested schedule, Arteta opted for an almost entirely unchanged side, sticking with the exuberant trio in behind our striker, who was instead Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, rather than Alex Lacazette.
And in the first half this almost certainly did not pay off. Arsenal were lethargic in their build up once again, lacking penetration and incision in their forward passing, spending too much time in possession in deep areas, rather than looking to progress the ball quickly. Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka were not getting into the half spaces they thrived in against Chelsea, and the press that worked so effectively against Frank Lampard's men was non existent. The players looked leggy- and perhaps understandably given the physical demands currently being placed on them. We ended the half having mustered up a single shot, and this came from a Granit Xhaka free-kick. 0.06 xG in a half of football- pretty dire.
However, Arteta clearly got into them at the break. They came out with a new lease of life, new found energy, applying more intensity and pace in their use of the ball and aptitude to press. The trio in behind Aubameyang began to look more fluid, linking up nicely and looking to penetrate Brighton's immobile back three on a consistent basis. Before Lacazette came on and opened the scoring, we wasted a number of opportunities after swift counter-attacks where we utilised the spaces Brighton presented to us immaculately.
Once we got the goal, it was just about seeing it out. In this relentless festive schedule, legs are going to wane towards the end of games, particularly when you make just one change between fixtures, so limiting Brighton and protecting our lead was how we approached the final 20 minutes. For all the criticism thrown at Arteta, one thing you cannot criticise under the Spaniard is our ability to sit in a compact shape and shut the opposition out. Other than a few speculative efforts, Brighton failed to muster a single quality effort in the final period of the game, and Arteta will take encouragement from this- a team who's offensive metrics are actually one of the more impressive in the league.
A huge win that alleviates some of the mounting pressure on Arteta. Some may argue the real tests lie ahead, with Newcastle, Crystal Palace and West Brom likely to pose more of a challenge with their more cynical uses of a low block, rather than Brighton's attempts to play a possession based game against us. However, it's a win that continues the momentum into these big games in a period which I said after Everton could decide Arteta's immediate fate.
It's crazy to think it's only been a year since I was sat here writing that United match review. A 2-2 win at the Bridge, Martinelli's wonder goal, a gutting Europa League exit, a global pandemic outbreak, a wage deferral, football without fans for the first time, several players frozen out, two North London Derby defeats, an FA Cup win, a host of new signings, a Community Shield victory and a horrific run of form that left us 3 points above the relegation zone have all ensued. I wonder what on earth 2021 will throw at us. As for now, goodbye 2020 and fuck off.