Dark clouds clearing as Arsenal show grit to grind out a win


t was, in the end, quite fitting that Arsenal’s match with Brighton took place in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

It is a weird time in the calendar, where you are recovering from celebrating Christmas and getting ready to see in the New Year.

That usually involves people doing absolutely nothing – bar sitting on the sofa and picking their way through the dregs of the Quality Street – and this match at the Amex certainly struck a cord with that mood.

The first 45 minutes, in particular, was exceptionally quiet and Arsenal did not register a single shot on target.

Their play was ponderous and slow, with Brighton’s backline barely troubled and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang merely a bystander in the freezing south coast night.

It was certainly a far cry from Arsenal’s Boxing Day win over Chelsea, which was a lively, festive celebration. That included a 25-yard free-kick from Granit Xhaka, a penalty save from Bernd Leno in injury time and – depending on you believe – a sublime finish from Bukayo Saka.

This 1-0 win over Brighton was the opposite of that, but it was just as important as Arsenal won back-to-back Premier League games for the first time since their opening two matches back in September.

The three points puts them up to 13th in the table, six points off Aston Villa in fifth, and suddenly the dark clouds above Emirates Stadium feel like they are clearing.

Arsenal are most certainly not out of the woods yet, however they should take confidence from this win at Brighton.

It was not the pulsating performance that saw them beat Chelsea, but one built on grit and determination. They are two qualities that have been lacking in recent weeks and Arsenal will need to continue to showcase them if they are to get back on track.

Games can’t always be won with fantastic free-kicks or cheeky chips, sometimes you have to win ugly and Arsenal did that against Brighton.

Their goal was, at least, a moment of quality on an otherwise poor night and it came, unsurprisingly, via Saka. He turned Dan Burn inside his own half and sped away, before teeing up Alexandre Lacazette to score just 21 seconds after he had come on as a substitute.

After that Arsenal battened down the hatches and saw out the game, with Pablo Mari and Rob Holding in the heart of defence impressing. The two have formed an unlikely partnership in the absence of Gabriel Magalhaes – who has tested positive for Covid-19 – and their doggedness is summing up Arsenal’s revival.

Neither Holding or Mari are regarded as one of the League’s best centre-backs, but by working together and uniting they are steadying a shaking ship.

Their next challenge is a trip to West Brom on Saturday. You can safely assume Baggies boss Sam Allardyce would love nothing more than to halt Arsenal’s progress – as he has done in the past – and it promises to be a feisty affair.

Indeed, it is likely Arsenal will have to go to the Hawthorns and grind out a win – just as they did against Brighton. Playing that way is, of course, not Mikel Arteta’s long-term plan, but right now it could help get a season on track when it was spiralling out of control.

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