Arsenal recorded their fourth successive home victory of the Premier League season as Arsene Wenger’s side coasted to three points against a spirited Brighton side at the Emirates on Sunday.
The hosts came out of the traps flying when Alexander Lacazette struck the woodwork with a thumping drive and it didn’t take long for Nacho Monreal to stab home and break the deadlock.
Brighton rallied after going behind though, with Solly March’s long-range effort hitting the post following a smart free-kick move before Lewis Dunk spooned a volley wide with the goal gaping.
Arsenal withstood the pressure well and doubled their advantage not long after the break when Alexis Sanchez’s delicate back-heel found Alex Iwobi in space, taking a touch before lashing home.
And the Gunners held off another late revival from the visitors to record a sixth win in their past seven matches across all competitions, moving up to fifth in the table, whilst Brighton remain in 14th place.
Arsenal show signs of improvement
After losing to Stoke City and Liverpool in the space of a fortnight, Arsenal’s Premier League title credentials had been written off by almost everybody following a dreadful start to the campaign.
While it may be too early to label them as title challengers they are certainly proving that they are capable of a top four finish this season, continuing their flawless home record with another win.
The link-up between Lacazette and Sanchez has been particularly pleasing to see from Wenger’s perspective, with the duo building up a nice on-pitch relationship, whilst Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka are providing more midfield protection than has been seen in an Arsenal side for a while.
It is still early days in the re-building stage and there’s a long way to go to compete with the two Manchester sides at the top, but the Gunners are slowly but surely picking up some decent results.
And, come May, they could look back at the 0-0 draw away at Stamford Bridge earlier in the month as a turning point in their season – and after the Liverpool loss, they would have taken it if somebody had said they would go into the October international break level on points with Chelsea.
Sanchez magic lights up the Emirates
Despite Arsenal being in firm control from the start, going a goal up early in the first-half, Brighton started to cause a few problems for the Gunners as they went in search of a second-half equaliser.
There was a palpable relief around the Emirates, then, when Iwobi found space inside the penalty area to thump a finish past Mathew Ryan in the Brighton goal and all-but secure another home win.
However, while Iwobi will take the plaudits for the goal, it was a little piece of Alexis Sanchez magic – reminiscent of the Chilean at his very best – that completely perplexed the visitor’s defence and conjured up the space, with the forward producing a delightfully delicate back-heel to find Iwobi.
It was an exquisite piece of play that earnt Sanchez his 11th assist since the start of the 2015-16 campaign, taking his direct involvement to 35 goals in that time – more than double any Arsenal man.
That moment of magic seemed to perk Sanchez up after a sluggish first-half, daring to run at Brighton’s defenders with intent and forcing Ryan into a number of reaction saves from distance.
He was a bundle of energy in the Arsenal side and the supporters around north London will no doubt be relieved to see him putting in performances on the pitch after his long, drawn-out summer ordeal.
Brighton pay the price for defensive tactics
Whilst nobody expected newly-promoted Brighton to head to the Emirates and dominate the play, Chris Hughton will be reflecting on Sunday’s match wishing he hadn’t set his side out so defensively.
Fellow promoted side Huddersfield showed the impact that pressing high and starting on the front foot could have, penning Tottenham back for the first ten minutes, and although the Terriers went a little too gung-ho in their attacking exploits Brighton could have learnt a lesson from their display.
Instead, the visitors invited pressure from Arsenal and sat too deep in the opening exchanges, and Monreal’s opener was just reward for Arsene Wenger’s side after a dominant opening to the match.
This left Hughton’s side with little choice but to adopt a new tactic to try and get back in the game, pressing further up the pitch and committing more men forwards to try and make things happen.
It was a tactic that nearly worked too, with Brighton creating more chances once they threw caution to the wind by virtue of getting more players in the Arsenal half, and they caused the hosts problems.
Ultimately Arsenal proved to be too strong for the Seagulls but there were signs of real promise at times when they took the game to their opponents, and Hughton will be pleased with their overall display.