Sunday was a good day to buy a paper. The sports pages – and the websites - carried plenty of column inches on Albion’s first win of 2020, and their first league double over one of the traditional Big Six.
Needless to say, plenty of those inches were devoted to the woes of Arsenal, the visitors to the empty Amex, and to the collision between Neal Maupay and Gunners goalkeeper Bernd Leno that led to post-match confrontations. But others noted Albion’s fighting spirit and the quality of the late winner.
ESPN reported the simple facts. “Tensions boiled over at the final whistle though as Arsenal players surrounded Maupay as he celebrated with teammates.
‘"Some of the Arsenal players need to learn a bit of humility," Maupay said after the game. "They were talking a lot in the first half, and in the second half they got what they deserved."
‘The Frenchman said he went into Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta at half-time to apologise for the challenge and explain that he meant no harm to Leno.
‘"Until the keeper gets to the ball, you never know what could happen. So I just went to get the ball. I think it was shoulder against shoulder - it's football, and there was contact. I never meant to hurt him and I'm really sorry he was injured," he added.
‘Speaking after the game, Arteta said it was "unacceptable" the way his team had lost the game. "I'm sure [Maupay] didn't have the intention to [injure Leno]," he added.’
Paul Hayward offered more context in the Sunday Telegraph. He wrote: ‘A grievance was handy to hide behind as Arsenal’s problem with playing Brighton expanded to become a problem with this resumption.
‘Mikel Arteta, their manager, knew it too, accusing his team of “throwing the game away” before a melee on the pitch ticked another controversy box for the returning Premier League. Matteo Guendouzi, a real prospect in central midfield, led the quest for revenge against Neal Maupay, seizing him by the throat when Arsenal’s second defeat in four days was confirmed.
‘In Arsenal’s eyes, Maupay was doubly culpable: for challenging Bernd Leno in a way that may have contributed to his serious knee injury and then exposing them to the wrath of Highbury and Islington with the winner five minutes into added time.’
Ollie Holt began his report for the Mail on Sunday with a good-natured dig at Arsenal. ‘Before the Premier League restart, Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin made a pledge. He would, he said, plant 3,000 trees in the Amazon Rainforest each time his team won until the end of the season. It is a worthy idea but you can probably spot the flaw. Two games in, the diggers are still waiting and the spades are still clean.’
But he continued: ‘The 2-1 victory lifted Brighton five points clear of the relegation zone and was early vindication for their chief executive Paul Barber, who had fought hard for the right to play home games at the Amex rather than neutral venues. Brighton still face a difficult run-in but this smash-and-grab raid has established a gap between them and their fellow strugglers.
‘Arsenal's lead only lasted seven minutes. They lost concentration at a Brighton corner and the home team worked the ball well along the byline to substitute Solly March. He drilled the ball into the six-yard box, Maupay got a touch and when Rob Holding tried to clear it, it rebounded off Lewis Dunk and over the line.
‘In the fifth and final minute of injury time, Maupay allowed a ball from substitute Alexis MacAllister to run through his legs and then ran onto Aaron Connolly's pass. He got to the ball before Martinez and lifted it expertly over him and into the net to seal victory.’
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Alex Milne of the Mirror saw enough to believe that Albion are on course for survival: ‘Out of nowhere Nicolas Pepe struck in the 67th minute to hand the visitors the lead, with his delightful curling strike giving Mat Ryan no chance.
‘But the equaliser came just seven minutes later as Lewis Dunk poked it over the line following hesitant defending.
‘And Neal Maupay ran onto a through ball to strike late on and earn the Seagulls a deserved win.
‘Judging by today's performance Brighton have the necessary quality to avoid the drop. They defended solidly, although they are not always the most entertaining watch they were more than a match for Arsenal in practically every area of the pitch and showed great spirit in coming from behind to eventually win the game.
‘Graham Potter's side have some tricky fixtures coming up, but they also still have matches against the likes of Norwich, Southampton and Newcastle before the end of the season, and you suspect two wins should be enough to secure safety.’
Nick Ames of The Observer noted that ‘Brighton’s lineup included eight of the starters from their victory at the Emirates in December but for long periods they were bereft of the crispness of that night. Yet their resolve was commendable and combined with their visitors’ notoriously soft underbelly it pushed them to three points that make relegation a far more remote prospect.
‘Graham Potter, who saw Brighton win for the first time in 2020 and move five points clear of the relegation zone, lauded his players’ recovery. “It was massive for us,” he said. “With no supporters you’ve got to find answers from within so I’m very proud of the players”.’
If it was a good day on the pitch it also went pretty smoothly off it too. Paul Hayward, referring to the cardboard images of around 1,200 supporters in the East Stand, tweeted ‘Nicely done by Brighton for the Arsenal game. Stands dressed with huge banners and cardboard images of fans. Smooth protocols (new phrase).’
That was a theme picked up in the Brighton Argus by its Albion reporter Brian Owen quoting Darren Balkham, Sussex Police’s football liaison officer, on Twitter. ‘Pleased to report, as I knew I would be able to, you supported the club far and wide. Wherever you watched the game, a very happy Saturday evening to you all and you don't have to travel far for the next game at Leicester as it would be unlucky to change the routine wouldn’t it?’