Brighton pile yet more misery on defensively fragile Arsenal
Maupay’s late header shows temporary boss Ljungberg the scale of the challenge ahead
Brighton celebrate Neal Maupay’s late winner at the Emirates. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty
Arsenal 1 Brighton & Hove Albion 2
Rome was not built in a day and Freddie Ljungberg is discovering Arsenal’s decline has hardly been a short-term issue either. It will take a prodigious effort, whether from the new interim head coach or anyone else, to whip this group of players into shape and that impression was confirmed in the starkest terms.
Brighton dominated most of the Ljungberg’s first home game in charge, fully deserving the win given to them by Adam Webster and, 10 minutes from the end, Neal Maupay. Arsenal were unable to build on Alexandre Lacazette’s equaliser and many more non-performances like this will strengthen the case for the managerial situation to be resolved as soon as possible.
Ljungberg had taken to the dugout in a thick bench jacket that kept the critics who, irrelevantly, had questioned his choice of attire at Carrow Road on Sunday guessing. Whether or not he had discarded the grey sweater this time, he certainly needed his team to be smarter.
To that end he made three changes from the side that had hung on at Norwich: Lucas Torreira had finished that game well so replaced Matteo Guendouzi, while the selections of Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Héctor Bellerín for Shkodran Mustafi and Calum Chambers were unsurprising.
The low-key nature of the opening stages was more noteworthy. Ljungberg was made to feel perfectly welcome but there was not quite a hero’s reception; nor was there anything approaching a full house, although there was more life inside the Emirates than for Unai Emery’s last rites against Eintracht Frankfurt seven days earlier.
Arsenal had started briskly against Norwich but a compact and composed Brighton side drew any early sting. Graham Potter’s players shaded possession in the opening quarter and anyone wondering what Ljungberg had been able to change in two straight days of training had to forage for scraps. Lacazette flicked a header across goal and David Luiz saw a daisycutter clutched by Mathew Ryan; there was plainly some appetite to move the ball swiftly, but little structure to make that a success.
Emboldened, Brighton began to ask questions. Aaron Connolly would have had a shooting chance had Bellerín, who was booked, not tugged him back a foot outside the area, Pascal Gross eventually wasting the free-kick. Bernd Leno then clutched a Webster header and, moments later, Connolly was millimetres from diverting the ball home after Maupay drilled it across.
By now the game was almost entirely being contested in Arsenal’s half. Maupay extended Leno from 20 yards and the pressure did not really abate until Webster’s goal. It came after Arsenal failed to defend a corner, Dan Burn winning the first header and Connolly almost getting a shot away. The ball fell to Webster, who gave Brighton a lead they entirely deserved.
Arsenal could only improve from this point, and they offered a glimmer when Ryan repelled Joe Willock’s header. But they had been outplayed and, when Connolly and Maupay broke again, only Granit Xhaka’s alertness prevented the latter from making it two.
Even allowing for the opposition’s competence, it had been a solid contender for Arsenal’s worst half of the season. Ljungberg reacted by introducing Nicolas Pépé for Willock and presumably by telling his team to shift up several gears too. Arsenal pressed immediately and it told within five minutes when Lacazette, with a near-identical header to his first-half effort, met Mesut Özil’s corner at the near post. Whether or not he was going for goal, it drifted beyond Ryan’s dive and dropped into the far corner. At last the Ljungberg era had a chance to gain genuine traction.
Crosses began to fizz across the Brighton goal, one from Sead Kolasinac narrowly missing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The tempo was unrecognisable but their propensity to offer chances felt familiar nonetheless. Maupay had one for Brighton just after the hour when a scurrying Leno stopped him converting Aaron Mooy’s header, Lewis Dunk heading the resulting corner over.
It felt briefly that Arsenal had shaken some of those old issues when David Luiz volleyed Özil’s free-kick past Ryan. The players had lined to restart by the time a VAR check, which showed the scorer was clearly offside, had been completed and on this occasion nobody could have any complaints.
Nor could anyone quibble when Maupay decided the issue, because this Arsenal side is simply incapable of turning the screw. In the previous 10 minutes they had allowed Brighton to reassert a measure of their earlier control and then, for the umpteenth time, they allowed Mooy to check into a good crossing position. Maupay’s run and header were timed to perfection; Ryan saved a similar effort from Martinelli four minutes from time and Arsenal showed no sign of escaping the doldrums. - Guardian