Seven points clear of Manchester City, 2023 promises a lot Arsenal. If the World Cup looms as the season begins and causes significant collateral damage, Mikel Arteta’s side have yet to lose their stride.
There are weaknesses. Brighton scored twice at the end of the second half, which was later disallowed by the video assistant referee, to prevent this from turning into a new public display. There will be more nerves to contend with, starting with Newcastle on Tuesday and Arteta may soon have to find some means of masking his personal concerns.
At times, he carves a tormented figure, but in Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard, Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli all a goalscorer, Odegaard put in a brilliantly creative performance and there is much more to him than Gabriel Jesus. “Big win, I’m really happy, they made it difficult for us,” said Arteta. “Every match is a huge test.”
Brighton have only lost three of their previous 10 Premier League Meetings with Arsenal and they would eventually play their part, but it only took 70 seconds for them to concede. Martinelli picked up the ball after Odegaard’s lunge, and the ball eventually deflected in for Saka to finish it off.
It might have been close, Robert Sanchez chokes as Oleksandr Zinchenko escaped left, Tariq Lamptey struggling with Martinelli’s rush. The Ghanaian’s strength lies in attack, and from his tackle Leandro Trossard, Brighton’s false number 9, the ball deflected. His brogues and pant legs were snagging as he paced, Arteta cursed as Trossard forced Aaron Ramsdal to make a hard save.
Ødegaard, who leads by example of excellence rather than beating in the chest, put a smile on his manager’s face just before the break. First to score a second ball after a Saka corner kick, the skittish Norwegian’s goal owed more to fortune than his impeccable technique. “I think it was an amazing goal,” he said. Three points was everything today.
“He does what we want him to do, to decide football matches,” Arteta said of his captaincy. “All four players who scored goals today, that’s great news.”
For Brighton, there was no indication that Alexis Mac Allister was still missing although he was supposedly up from Argentina’s celebrations. He received a standing ovation in the preamble to the match only for the stadium announcer to ask – apparently in jest – if anyone had the midfielder’s number.
The Argentine could have replaced Moises Caicedo, who was suspended after being booked in the match that Southampton won 3-1. Pascal Gross’ partner Billy Gilmour struggled in midfield. With McAllister and Caicedo topping the January transfer wish list, Roberto De Zerbi and the club’s chief executive Paul Barber, newly honored in Kings’ New Year’s honours, may need more permanent midfield solutions. “I can’t say more than McAllister is in my Brighton squad, I can’t tell you more,” said De Zerby.
By scoring in the first minute of the second half, Arsenal seemed to have concluded their agonizing advantage over City. Saka started the move before Nketiah swept him in after Sanchez parried Martinelli’s shot. Nketiah did not start a Premier League game before Jesus was injured at the World Cup but has scored twice in two matches since then.
Three goals, taking off Arteta Zinchenko and Ben White in place of Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu, to protect key players. When Kaoru Mitoma slotted in from the space left by his complacent Japanese compatriot to score, it was a reminder of just how much Arteta relied on his first line-up, his side much thinner than his forwards.
Within these bare bones was the quality of Odegaard, whose egregious pass set up Martinelli’s goal before teenager Ivan Ferguson’s first Premier League goal marked a peak in which Brighton showed the danger they lacked in the first half.
“Maybe we need to control the game a little bit better,” Odegaard admitted. “We let them do it a couple of times, but they’re a good team, good on the ball.”
When Mituma put the ball into the net for the second time, it looked like a miraculous comeback, only for a technological intervention. “Martinelli’s last goal, he finished the game,” Zerbe shrugged afterwards.
Mania on the touchline During those closing moments, Arteta called for calm, his frenzied expressions didn’t even remotely match. He finally managed to breathe. His team can look at City from a greater height.