The results on Sunday showed just how tough winning an away tie in the FA Cup can be. Arsenal did a commendable job of securing progress. I looked at the 5th round draw – speaking of which, I think Wenger will be happy with the fixture, it could have been much tougher – and only 7 of the remaining 18 teams are from the Premier League.
Coming to the game itself, Arsene made six changes to his line-up but it was still quite a strong team. Only the full-back position seemed a tad weak, particularly on the left, but the manager can hardly be faulted for resting some of his big players.
It was difficult to judge the first-half performance. Brighton played aggressively and worked hard. They disrupted Arsenal’s build-from-back process effectively. The Gunners only had 3 shots and only 1 on target – that was the goal – in the first half. The other two shots were tame efforts in injury time from Santos and Rosicky. Other than that, there were few threatening moments in the Brighton defensive third.
Arsenal were playing too deep in their own half when they didn’t have the ball. On top of that, Brighton’s pressing and energy in the centre of the pitch made it difficult for Arsenal. I don’t recall too many moments when the Gunners were able to push a number of bodies forward. In fairness, this approach did also minimize the number of chances the hosts could create.
Rosicky had a few opportunities to run at the Brighton defence. At times he was fouled, and on some occasions it just didn’t work for him. But in the 16th minute he got into a useful position after the Seagulls overplayed a corner and was able to drive at the Brighton defence. That run led to the chance for Giroud and the Frenchman produced an accomplished finish.
A minute or so earlier, Mertesacker had played Barnes onside which put the attacker one-v-one with Szczesny. The pole made a very good save and he started the move for the goal by catching a cross and finding Rosicky in space. Those were probably his best moments of the game. His worst gifted the opponents the equalizer. Szczesny should have read the flight of the cross and attacked it. He was late and Barnes snuck in ahead of him.
That was it in the first half. Neither side really imposing themselves on the game but Brighton did have to spend a lot of energy.
Arsenal started the second half brightly, as we’ve come to expect. There was a spell of sustained pressure and a number of chances were created. Jenkinson hit forced a good save and Podolski hit the post before Giroud picked up his second.
This was a different kind of goal from the Frenchman. Here his movement was clever, physical strength was impressive, first touch was enjoyable, and the finish was emphatic. Diaby’s ball too was sublime. Arsenal’s shape when Diaby played the ball was worth noting. They were camped in the opposition half with the midfield forming a fence in front of the opponents halfway through their half and the attacking players roamed between the defence. Giroud was on the shoulder of the last defender and made a run in behind. The Gunners hardly ever got into such a shape in the first half. I don’t know how much of it was down to a conscious tactical choice, how much was down to subconscious psychological elements, or what proportion of causality can be ascribed to the opposition’s diligence.
Soon after the goal Giroud had another great chance when Rosicky put him one-v-one with the Keeper but the striker was only able to hit the Goalie with his powerful shot.
A couple of minutes later Brighton equalized from nothing. The problems were classic Arsenal. Some players were trying to attack while the others were tactically unsure just before the goal was scored. Rosicky was dispossessed in the opposition box. There were two other Arsenal players in the vicinity. Three others were around the centre circle. The just didn’t push up to compress play and support the attack. The gap between these players and those in attack was incredible. Even when in the centre of the pitch, it wasn’t as if the players were taking up meaningful defensive positions.
All this meant Brighton were able to bring the ball from their box to Arsenal’s in a matter of seconds. Mertesacker was caught on the wrong side of the striker and just didn’t have the athleticism to attack the ball. There was no pressure on the ball in the build-up, no one got near the man who put the cross in, and the striker had a free header. Terrible football all over the pitch.
Brighton did gain some momentum from the goal and for a while they were the side in ascendancy. Wenger was forced into bringing Wilshere and Walcott on. For the final few minutes Gibbs too made an appearance.
These players made a difference. They were able to arrest the momentum that Brighton were developing. Arsenal were able to create some chances in the final fifteen minutes and, even though there was an element of luck to the winner, the result seemed fair on the balance of play.
It was a strange game from a defensive point of view. There were terrible errors for both the goals conceded, but the team was also able to restrict the chances that Brighton could create even when the hosts had promising spells of possession. In that sense, I do feel the goals came out of nowhere. You might say that’s a common source for goals for any team playing against Arsenal.
Szczesny: As described above, had a couple of big moments but followed it up with a big mistake. Wasn’t a busy day for him otherwise.
Jenkinson: Wasn’t able to contribute much in attack except that one shot and maybe a couple of crosses. Brighton didn’t attack his flank as much as they did the other so he had a relatively comfortable time tough time defensively.
Mertesacker: As mentioned above, bad mistake for the second goal. Also played Barnes onside. Was able to deal with almost everything else that came his way but it would still go down a poor game.
Koscielny: Don’t think he can be blamed for either goal. Steady game, probably the best defender on the night.
Santos: Had a tough evening. Gave the ball away carelessly, wasn’t able to get close to his winger often enough, most of Brighton’s attacks came from his side.
The back five had decent support. Although the entire team’s shape was bad in the build-up to the second goal, one would expect the defenders to take greater responsibility. Not one of their memorable nights.
Ramsey: Following on from his impressive effort against West Ham, this one was a tougher challenge in the same role and Brighton put him under pressure. There were more mistakes in this game but his energy and willingness to chase/tackle did help the defenders. That ball over the top for Walcott was sumptuous.
Rosicky: We saw glimpses of what he can bring to the team but it wasn’t one of his most effective efforts. Despite that, he played a big part in the first goal and created a good chance for Giroud. He was fouled quite often and that did break his rhythm up but I felt he was a bit rusty and off-pace. Sustained fitness should take care of that.
Diaby: Wasn’t able to drive the team forward in the first half when they were pushed back. Excellent assists for the second goal. Along with Ramsey, he played a valuable role in keeping the defence protected. Not a great game for his quality but it was enough.
The midfield wasn’t able to impose itself on the game in the first half. That period was more about countering the opponent’s energy with hard work of their own. Early in the second half and then again late in the game the midfielders did come into their own and there were periods when Wenger’s preferred playing style could be seen and enjoyed.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: Can’t say he did much wrong but he did very little.
Giroud: MotM, easily. Two different but equally impressive goals. Even that overhead kick, which led to the corner that resulted in the goal, was well-executed. Worked hard and won some knock-ons too. Might have done better with a couple of other chances but two goals in six or so attempts seems about right.
Podolski: Useful run and assist for the first goal. Hit the post with a brilliant free-kick (I have no idea why he doesn’t take more). Didn’t hit the heights of the previous game but it was good to see him complete 90 minutes.
Subs: Walcott’s pace added a different dimension to the attack and his knack for scoring continues. Wilshere brought greater energy and purpose. Gibbs had a few useful moments in the attacking and defensive third of the pitch.
Wenger: Good use of the squad and substitutions. Nature of goals conceded will be a worry but that of goals scored will be encouraging.Follow @goonerdesi