Win at Brighton sets Arsenal up for strong Prem finish - ESPN

7 Apr 2024

James Olley, Senior Writer, ESPN FCApr 6, 2024, 04:05 PM ET

BRIGHTON, England -- If there is credence to the idea that Arsenal's title chances could be decided by their away form in the run-in to the end of the season, then the Gunners' 3-0 win at Brighton on Saturday offers real hope they will not falter.

Arsenal - Figure 1

Every game will be vital in what looks like it'll be the most closely contested three-way Premier League title race in memory, but Arsenal's trip to the Amex Stadium is the second in a run of tricky tests on the road that punctuate the final few weeks like banana skins in the road.

After showing their defensive resilience to earn a draw at Manchester City last weekend, Arsenal again showed their discipline at Brighton. Only this time, the Gunners added potency in their attack reminiscent of the start of 2024 when they were emphatically beating opponents with ease. They have still not trailed for a single minute in a league game this calendar year.

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Arsenal did need a 33rd-minute penalty from Bukayo Saka to edge a first half. The Gunners created the better chances by some distance, yet still looked in some jeopardy when Brighton aligned their intelligent press to more incisive passing.

Still, Arsenal largely kept the home side at arm's length, with their closest call coming when goalkeeper David Raya had to make a superb save at full stretch to deny Julio Enciso shortly before half-time. In the second half, the Gunners took control with the sort of authority usually reserved for Manchester City or Liverpool given the stakes in play.

Kai Havertz continued his impressive trend of influencing games in a decisive fashion, slotting home a second goal on 62 minutes before assisting a late third as substitute Leandro Trossard surged clear on the counter attack before lifting a clever finish over Bart Verbruggen.

Winning here does not make subsequent away games at Wolves, Tottenham and Manchester United any easier, of course. But the conviction in their play against a Brighton team that hadn't lost a league match since August serves as both a boost to their confidence and a benchmark to hit in those fixtures that remain.

This away win is especially relevant to an Arsenal team that, in last season's run-in, drew at Liverpool and West Ham before losing at City and Nottingham Forest.

Arteta was asked afterwards on Saturday whether a win like this can give his players more belief for those away days ahead, and he clearly feels emboldened by their display.

"Yes, it does because this is a really, really tough place to come," he said. "And to come here and win in the manner and the form we have done. Hopefully yes and we can carry on doing what we're doing.

"At the end it is about performances. You have to earn the right to win games in this league. The teams, they ask you a lot of questions and there are a lot of things you have to control in a Premier League match to win away from home and the team seems to be controlling those moments much better.

"We have been comfortable in different stages of games when the teams are demanding other stuff. That's a big step as team."

Havertz won the 2021 Champions League with Chelsea -- scoring the winning goal in the final against City -- but never entirely convinced at Stamford Bridge. Sources close to the player insist he suffered both with injury and also the demands of differing styles as the Blues switched managers from Thomas Tuchel to Graham Potter and then to Frank Lampard.

Arteta, however, has unlocked a consistency in Havertz's play and in the centre-forward role he was often derided for in a Chelsea shirt. It is around two months since the 24-year-old began playing regularly through the middle, and the returns have been extremely valuable: five goals and three assists now from his past seven starts.

Havertz's nine league goals is his best return in an English season. He is in danger of becoming the striker many demanded Arsenal sign in January.

"A lot of times players decide where they have to play," said Arteta. "We can have certain ideas but then you see certain relationships and sometimes it flows.

"When it flows you have to let it go. I think Kai at the moment is flowing. He is really comfortable there and the team is really comfortable with him there and the rest of it is happening naturally."

At the back, Arsenal continue to look almost impenetrable. Brighton managed 10 shots but only recorded an expected goals figure of 0.53 with Danny Welbeck unable to unsettle the stoic centre-back partnership of William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes. Significantly, today marked the first time the Gunners have kept five consecutive clean sheets away from home in the Premier League since April 1997.

Brighton's Carlos Baleba did his best to disrupt Arsenal's rhythm in midfield, but Declan Rice and Jorginho established a level of control they never truly looked like relinquishing. In 11 league games since the turn of the year, Arsenal are unbeaten with 10 wins, scoring 38 goals and conceding only four. They ended Saturday at the top of the table and improving their goal difference even further to hold a nine-goal advantage over Liverpool and 11 over City.

The tests will continue -- and last season's late slump when eight points clear means there are still questions to answer -- but Luton boss Rob Edwards said after his team lost at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday that Arsenal "can play any sort of game -- if it's a physical game, if it's a footballing game, if it's a running game -- whatever it is, they've got the answer."

It is difficult to disagree on this evidence, even if they are still reliant on Liverpool dropping points over the next few weeks to win their first title since 2004.

Shortly after full-time, a rainbow emerged over the stand where Arsenal's travelling support were housed. Time will tell if a pot of gold sits at the end of it but the Gunners are currently enjoying these away days much more than many expected.

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