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NICK SZCZEPANIK'S PRESS VERDICT: ARSENAL

6 May 2019

Paul Hazlewood
Solly March in action against Arsenal.

A point won or two lost? The media verdict on the 1-1 draw at The Emirates seemed to be that Arsenal had dropped two points as most of the daily papers’ reporters concentrated on the Gunners’ failings rather than Albion’s first point away to a top-six club.

There were exceptions, of course, and the Daily Telegraph allowed chief sports writer Paul Hayward a separate piece alongside the match report to consider the Seagulls angle.

“Brighton’s reprieve after a poor second-half to their campaign was granted on Saturday by a club whose supporters would much rather see them in the Championship: Crystal Palace, the other protagonist in the ‘A23 derby,’ who beat Cardiff in South Wales to send Neil Warnock’s team down”, he wrote.

“The victory also sent Brighton to Arsenal without the mortal dread they have been carrying for much of 2019. Rather than plod around not caring about the result, Chris Hughton’s men elected to stretch their legs and enjoy themselves, counter-attacking against a team with the more upscale anxiety of desperately wanting a top-four finish.

“The early concession of a goal via Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s penalty might have started a deluge but instead Brighton fought back and were level after an hour when Granit Xhaka stupidly tapped Solly March as he was passing and conceded a penalty that was scored by Glenn Murray, who has been responsible for 35 per cent of Brighton’s league goals since the start of last season. Only Leicester’s Jamie Vardy has a higher percentage in that period (36 per cent), Opta say.

“’What we mustn’t forget is that we’ve been through certainly two-thirds of the season without being in what most people would perceive as trouble in the division - and at one stage were 10 points clear,’ Hughton said. ‘The games we needed to win - home games against the teams around us - we didn’t do.’

“Those fans who said there was ‘nothing to celebrate’ about the club’s survival may care to reflect that Liverpool and Man City will be traveling to Brighton and Hove again next season. The summer offers hope of a review and improvements. That process would be a lot less fun in the Championship.”

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Paul Doyle of The Guardian pointed out that Albion had had chances to take all three points.

He wrote: “Arsenal came into the game after three domestic defeats and, despite taking an early lead through a penalty by Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang, came close to suffering a fourth, as Pascal Gross miskicked from three yards in the dying minutes with the goal at his mercy.

“Brighton had drawn level half an hour earlier when Glenn Murray converted a penalty given away in daft fashion by Granit Xhaka. That was Brighton’s first away goal in five matches, and earned them their first point at the home of a top-six team this season.

“Brighton came into this game liberated of the threat of relegation. Perhaps Chris Hughton would free up his players to attack with gusto? That looked a zany notion after the opening minutes, during which Brighton’s green-clad players massed around their own box like soldiers guarding a precious asset.

“[But] Brighton bucked up their ideas. And as so often, Arsenal’s defence looked vulnerable under pressure while their midfield failed to offer adequate protection.

“At right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner, a 35-year-old making his first league start since February owing to the suspension of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, had trouble keeping up with Solly March.

“Bernd Leno spawned jitters with erratic distribution, most alarmingly in the 26th minute when he kicked the ball straight to Jahanbakhsh at the edge of the box. In the pandemonium Shkodran Mustafi did well to block a shot by Murray before March clipped a cross back for the striker to try again from eight yards. Leno reacted sharply to stop his downward header.

“Whatever Emery said at half-time made no difference. His players continued to look disjointed and brittle. And the way they allowed Brighton back into the game was downright ridiculous, Xhaka slapping March on the shoulder as the attacker flew past him in the box. Murray sidefooted the penalty into the net.”

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Matt Barlow of the Daily Mail pointed out that referee Anthony Taylor had erred in awarding Arsenal’s penalty.

“Arsenal were ahead within nine minutes, with Alireza Jahanbakhsh adjudged to have tripped Nacho Monreal, although replays showed he had touched the ball before the full-back toppled over his leg,” he wrote.

“Brighton, safe from relegation thanks to Crystal Palace's win at Cardiff, went close when Murray's header was saved by Bernd Leno.

“Mat Ryan, meanwhile, made excellent saves to deny Shkodran Mustafi, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, while Lewis Dunk headed clear from Alexandre Lacazette.

“Solly March was Brighton's best outlet and was rewarded when he won the penalty which ultimately secured a point for Chris Hughton's team when he dashed into the penalty box, eased away from Granit Xhaka and hit the ground.

“Again, contact appeared minimal but Xhaka did not stop to complain and Murray beat Leno with the spot kick.

“Arsenal threw players forward and Aubameyang wasted the best of their late chances, slicing wide when he ought to have hit the target and they could have lost it on the break.

“Bernardo and Yves Bissouma whistled shots wide and Leno made a terrific late save from March to ensure the day did not end in a fourth successive defeat.”

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Five of the Mirror website’s six talking points from the match were Arsenal-centred, but one looked forward to next Sunday’s match at The Amex.

“Brighton's steady performances in recent weeks against Arsenal and Tottenham are a good sign for one team... Liverpool!

“The Seagulls host Manchester City on the last day of the Premier League season and could play party-poopers if they manage to get a result.

“Liverpool are needing City to drop points before the end of the season if they are to become champions and the game against Brighton might just be the best chance for that to happen.

“Brighton have proven in recent weeks that they can be solid against the greatest of teams.

“You never know, maybe there is a glimmer of hope for Liverpool.”

We shall see – on to The Amex!

 


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