Arsenal: Cech, Holding, Mustafi, Monreal, Bellerin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Kolasinac, Iwobi, Alexis, Lacazette
Subs: Ospina, Mertesacker, Maitland-Niles, Wilshere, Walcott, Elneny, Giroud
Arsenal extended their unbeaten run as goals from Nacho Monreal and Alex Iwobi gave them a somewhat pedestrian 2-0 over Brighton at the Emirates this afternoon.
Rob Holding came in for the injured Laurent Koscielny, while Alex Iwobi was declared fit again and started in place of Mesut Ozil whose knee problem ruled him out of the game.
The Gunners almost opened the scoring in the second minute with a fizzing drive by Alexandre Lacazette that cannoned back off the post with the keeper well beaten. At the other end a free kick was flicked on by Brown, but Cech shepherded the ball wide.
Alexis was next to have a pop from distance, but he found Matt Ryan in the Brighton goal equal to the challenge. The visitors sat very deep, looking to block off the supply lines meaning Arsenal needed precision to fashion their chances. Slick passing in the 12th minute provided one to Iwobi, but he couldn’t quite find the finish.
A free kick outside the box saw Xhaka cross to the back post, Mustafi and Bellerin tried to put home the rebound, but it fell to Nacho Monreal who took it down and finished perfectly into the bottom corner with his right foot to give Arsenal the lead. 1-0.
A clumsy Kolasinac challenge gave Brighton a chance to put a dangerous ball in the box, but a well worked free kick saw March crack a shot off the post, and when the rebound fell to Dunk he couldn’t quite control it and put it wide with the goal gaping. Going behind certainly woke the visitors up.
Iwobi capped a nice run with a shot on goal, but again it was tame; Xhaka hit a free kick off the wall; and Lacazette had a pop from outside the box when he could have played in Alexis outside who would have been one on one with the keeper. Another illustration of how good decision making can impact the game.
Shane Duffy went into the referee’s notebook for a foul on Alexis as the first period headed into the final few minutes, and Arsenal almost doubled the lead with a fantastic break from a Brighton corner. Alexis, Bellerin, and then Kolasinac were all involved, and when the ball fell to Ramsey it looked like a goal was inevitable but Ryan made a superb save with his feet to deny the Welshman.
Brighton weren’t toothless though, Mustafi’s hesitation provided a chance for Propper to curl one towards the top corner, but he overhit it and Arsenal took the one goal lead into the break.
There were no changes at half-time for either side, and the game settled into much the same pattern with the Gunners trying to break down a packed defence. Alexis set up Lacazette but his shot was blocked by Duffy, before Ramsey volleyed over when the Chilean’s corner found him on the edge of the box.
The same combination gave Ramsey a chance from much closer in but he couldn’t quite get enough power on his header, but when a beautiful move between Sanchez and Ramsey saw the former Barcelona man back-heel the ball into the path of Iwobi he got the assist his creativity deserved. The Nigerian made no mistake with an emphatic finish to make it 2-0.
Alexis then played in Bellerin whose cross was just about cleared, he had a shot himself blocked on the way through, and when sent down the left by Kolasinac a goalbound effort was deflected just wide. From the resulting corner a Kolasinac header was cleared off the line and again an Alexis effort on goal was saved.
Alexis toe-bogged one wide after exchanging passes with Iwobi, Lacazette had a close range shot blocked, and with just under 20 minutes to go Arsene Wenger made his first changes with Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott coming on for Lacazette and Iwobi.
The Chilean curled a free kick over the bar after he’d been brought down outside the box, and Brighton made two changes with Knockaert and Murray coming on for Brown and Izquierdo.
If Chris Hughton’s side target was to keep the score down, they certainly did enough to frustrate an Arsenal side who really should have scored more to boost what is a very small positive goal difference. Walcott’s poor pass in the box put an end to a promising move, and the manager made his final change introducing Mohamed Elneny for Xhaka in the 83rd minute.
There was a great chance for Murray to pull one back after Mustafi was caught napping but the powerful near post header flew just wide. Cech had to punch away after more carelessness at the back from Arsenal allowed a cross to the back post, and Mustafi’s defensive header skimmed wide for a corner with the Arsenal keeper rooted to the spot.
Propper hit an injury time shot wide, Giroud headed over, and in the end Arsenal deserved the win – but may feel they’d let a chance to score more goals go begging.