Arsenal 1-2 Brighton: Gunners Lose Ground on Top Four Qualification

Arsenal 1-2 Brighton: 3 talking points from crushing top four blow

Match Report – Match Highlights – Post-Match Press Conference

Final Result: Arsenal 1-2 Brighton (Odegaard 89′ | Trossard 29′, Mwepu 67′)

Arsenal XI (4-3-3): Ramsdale; Cedric, White, Gabriel, Xhaka; Sambi Lokonga, Smith-Rowe (Nketiah 62′), Odegaard; Saka, Martinelli (Pepe 74′) Lacazette

Following the 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace, Arsenal was expected to gain maximum points against Brighton, with their arch-rivals, Tottenham, gaining momentum with sights on the coveted fourth spot for Champions League qualification. Losing Kieran Tierney to a season ending injury, coupled with Nuno Taveres’ pathetic display, was a very bitter pill to swallow, but losing Thomas Partey to his recurrent thigh injury as well, made our already thin squad even thinner. 

With the manager clearly lacking trust in Nuno Taveres, the only recognizable central midfielder, Granit Xhaka, was asked to deputise at left back, allowing Sambi Lokonga to fill in at midfield with Emile Smith-Rowe and Martin Odegaard playing ahead of him. Not to be critical of Nuno Taveres and Lokonga, but in all honesty, they are not ready for first team football at Arsenal. In the games they have managed to play, they have struggled so badly, and their performances were clear indications on why they have rotted on the bench all these weeks. Nuno’s inexperience was on show with the first Crystal Palace goal he ducked when he should have hit the deck for a clear free kick as he was impeded by Joachim Andersen. For the second goal at Palace, he was so far off from Gabriel that the team became exposed when Andersen’s pass found Jordan Ayew, so it was no surprise to see him yanked out at halftime.

Sambi Lokonga on the other hand, had a stinker yesterday, offering little or no protection to the backline in front of him, and he was found wanting as both goals conceded to Brighton came from similar positions at the edge of the box, where a certain Partey would have been on the prowl to mop up any opposition attack in his bid to do his job, which is providing defensive support to the team. Due to Taveres’ short comings, Xhaka was removed from the position where he would have provided support to the backline, leaving Lokonga to do a job he has shown he’s not capable of.

Odegaard’s brilliant drive turned out to be nothing more than a consolation, and with Tottenham destroying Aston Villa away, the Gunners are now three points behind Spurs with just a couple of games left to play. I know there is a lot of football to be played between now and the end of the season, but losing at home to Brighton is a major setback and a big blow to our top four qualification hopes.

Let’s hope things work out for our good in the coming days and weeks ahead, as we play Southampton next before the game in hand against Chelsea.

Sayonara.

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International Break: Arsenal Players Review

Nicolas Pepe

Speaking of break, apologies for my brief hiatus on the blog for the entirety of March 2022. I was in an offsite location with internet connectivity as good as Alexandre Lacazette’s goal scoring form, so to a certain degree, you could understand my predicament. My last blog post was focused on Arsenal’s Carabao Cup adventure but the Gunners were on fire in the Premier League, grabbing three wins (Watford, Leicester and Aston Villa) from the four the month had to offer. The only defeat came against the juggernauts from Liverpool, but on another day, the result could have been different, especially with the way Gabriel Martinelli made mince meat out of Trent Alexander-Arnold on a consistent basis. 

As expected from a team with players in such great form, with Bukayo Saka nominated for the EPL Player of the Month, as well as Martinelli’s strike at Watford earning him a nomination for the Goal of the Month, several players were called up to represent their respective nations in crucial world cup qualifiers and friendlies. Without further ado, let’s review the performances of the Arsenal players during the international break.

England – With Aaron Ramsdale still nursing a hip injury and Bukayo Saka withdrawing from the England squad after testing positive to COVID, Ben White and Emile Smith-Rowe were the Arsenal contingent that represented the Three Lions in their friendly victories over Switzerland and Ivory Coast. White played the entire match in the victory of the Swiss, and notched up 45 minutes as a right back in the Ivory Coast game. ESR didn’t feature against Switzerland but notched up 30 or so minutes in the win over Ivory Coast. White has grown from strength to strength following his £50m move from Brighton, and he has turned out to be one of the most consistent performers for the Gunners this season. Glad to see him banking those well-deserved minutes for England in the international break.

Portugal – Cedric Soares was an unused substitute in Portugal’s World Cup qualifying matches against Turkey and Macedonia. He would be elated to qualify for the football fiesta in Qatar but with Diogo Dalot and Joao Cancelo playing ahead of him in both games, his place in his nation’s side has to be under some threat.

Scotland – Kieran Tierney played 180 minutes in Scotland friendly draws against Austria and Poland. Playing as a LCB, Tierney got his first Scotland goal after 31 caps with a textbook header from a delicious John McGinn set piece. Tierney and his lads felt hard done by when the ref awarded a penalty in the 93rd minute when Kyzysztof Piatek was scythed to the ground by the veteran goalie, Craig Gordon. The forward picked up himself and sent the goalie the wrong way to salvage a draw for the Poles. Tierney contributed from an attacking standpoint in the draw against Austria with an assist.

Brazil – Gabriel sat at home, while his younger compatriot, Gabriel Martinelli, received his first call up to the Brazil national team. The maverick came off the bench twice in Brazil’s resounding 4-0 victories over Bolivia and Chile. Despite not getting on the score sheet, Martinelli’s confidence continued to soar as he managed to put up some excellent displays on his cameos.

Switzerland – Swiss captain, Granit Xhaka, played in both friendlies against England (which they lost) and Kosovo (where they shared the spoils). As you’d expect from the cultured midfielder, Xhaka was spraying pass after pass for his nation, and will be satisfied with the displays for his nation.

Egypt – Mohamed Elneny and his Egyptian team mates would really hate the sight of the Senegalese national team. It’s bad enough that Senegal captured the African Cup of Nations crown from the hands of Egypt early in the year, but the Senegalese were at it again, eliminating the Egyptians via the lottery of penalty shootouts. Elneny featured in central midfield in both games and sadly, will miss out on the football mundial come November 2022.

Ghana – Thomas Partey turned out to be the national hero of his nation, as his goal in the Jollof Derby against Nigeria turned out to be pivotal, with the Black Stars of Ghana qualifying ahead of their arch-rivals via the away goals rule. The first leg in Kumasi was a goalless stalemate, with both sides having it all to do in the second leg at Abuja, but it was Partey’s goal with Ghana’s first attempt on target that sent his nation into raptures, as they basked in the euphoria of yet another World Cup qualification.

Norway – Martin Odegaard was in very good form for Norway over the international break, as he scored the match clincher in the 2-0 win over Slovakia in the first of two friendlies the Scandinavian side won. The second game was a whitewash as Odegaard bagged two assists in the 9-0 demolition of Armenia. The Gunners will be hopeful he carries this form to the Premier League ahead of a crunch fixture against Crystal Palace on Monday night.

Belgium – Albert Sambi Lokonga was unused substitute in Belgium’s matches against Ireland (draw) and Burkina Faso (win). The young midfielder has been on the periphery in recent months and would probably remain so bar any injuries or suspensions to the core midfield personnel.

Ivory Coast – Nicolas Pepe featured in both friendly defeats for Ivory Coast against France and England. The club’s record signing, received a routine throw-in from Ibrahim Sangare on the right, skipped past the Hernandez brother’s and smacked one in from Hugo Lloris’ near post. We have always know Pepe is capable of coming up with the goods – the challenge has always been his consistency.

The most important bit of news from the international break is that no Arsenal player received any injuries, as Mikel Arteta will have all his guys for the next 10 ‘cup finals’.

Sayonara.

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Thoughts on Arsenal’s Carabao Cup Adventure

Liverpool beat Chelsea in Carabao Cup final as nerve-wracking penalty  shootout ends with late substitute Kepa Arrizabalaga putting spot-kick over

Kepa launching the ball into orbit

The Carabao Cup was concluded last night in what I would describe as a beautiful game of football with two of England’s finest locking horns for the right to be the champion. The Carabao Cup has been dominated by Manchester City in recent seasons, with the Citizens winning seven of the last nine editions including four straight triumphs. Arsenal, on the other hand, haven’t won the Carabao Cup since 1993, and the Gunners came quite close this season, with a semifinal berth that saw Mikel Arteta’s men lose to the eventual champions, Liverpool.

The adventure started with Arsenal playing in the Second Round for the first time in eons against West Bromwich Albion. The game marked the debut of Aaron Ramsdale in goal, and the young Englishman has gone to cement his place in the starting XI ahead of Bernd Leno. The game was a goalfest with Arsenal smashing six goals past their hosts with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang netting a hattrick. His next hattrick after this turned out to be in Barcelona colors against Valencia. There were also goals on the night for Nicolas Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka.

Aubameyang grabs a hat-trick as Arsenal hit West Brom for six | Reuters

The Third Round of the Carabao Cup saw the Gunners host lowly AFC Wimbledon with Lacazette opening the scoring with a penalty before late goals from Hale End Academy graduates, Emile Smith-Rowe and Eddie Nketiah settled the contest. With the gulf in class between both clubs, there was only going to be one winner and it turned out to be Arsenal. Things got a bit juicier in the Carabao Cup Round of 16 with Arsenal hosting struggling Leeds United, but the Gunners had to wait for a Calum Chambers goal off the bench, before Nketiah settled the contest. That would also turn out to be Chambers’ last goal for the club, as he left for Aston Villa in the winter transfer window.

Arsenal had a rather favorable quarterfinal fixture in the Carabao Cup, hosting Sunderland, and smashing five past them with Nketiah netting a hattrick but the game will be fondly remembered for Charlie Patino making his Arsenal debut and scoring as well.

Arsenal warned not to put too much pressure on Charlie Patino after debut  goal as Danny Mills gives advice to wonderkid

Then there was the semifinals against the juggernauts, Liverpool, at Anfield. In all honesty, many Arsenal fans, me included, expected a routine loss, especially with the fact that we were thrashed resoundingly by the same team in the Premier League, so losing Granit Xhaka to a dismissal early in the game made chills run down my spine, but the team rallied and put up a defensive masterclass to leave Merseyside with a goalless draw.

Which makes the second leg at the Emirates very painful…

Arsenal began with such zest and enthusiasm with Gabriel Martinelli giving Trent Alexander-Arnold hell on that wing, but bar a Lacazette free kick that clipped the post and went over, the home side offered nothing else in attack. Oh, there was that dinked pass from Sambi Lokonga to Lacazette, and he wasted the golden opportunity in the most Lacazette way possible. The wind was taken off Arsenal’s sails when Diogo Jota slalomed his way through the Arsenal defense and misfired a shot that somehow blindsided Ramsdale in goal. The Portuguese forward’s second finish on the night was more clinical, getting in behind the defense and lobbing it past the goalie to send Liverpool to the finals.

It was quite painful to see the Gunners work so hard at Anfield, only to put up a limp display in front of their own fans, but that’s football for you. The Carabao Cup remains one of the most exciting competitions in the land, as it always hands opportunities for new talents to be showcased, but Arsenal’s race was run at the semifinal stage, and one hopes the lads can go one better next season.

Sayonara.

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