Arsenal rounded up the first half of the Premier League season with a rather disappointing draw away to Brighton and Hove Albion in a game that saw the teams score a goal apiece.
Yes, it’s a disappointing result, given the difference in quality of the two teams and in the size and reputation of the two clubs. But the most disappointing thing about it is that the Gunners should actually be thankful that they were allowed to leave the Amex Stadium with a point.
If you saw the game or read any report on it, you will know that it was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who opened the scoring after only seven minutes with an incredibly cool-headed finish, following some extremely poor defending by the home side and some Zidane-like trickery from Alexandre Lacazette.
Brighton pushed hard for an equalizer but failed to create anything of note, barring a moment when striker Glen Murray tried to get the ball over the goal-line by kicking it out of Bernd Leno’s hands.
However, right on the half-hour mark, Aubameyang nearly added another goal. He cut inside from a wide position, getting away from fullback Martin Montoya and in behind the two centre-backs to receive an inch-perfect pass from Granit Xhaka. He did everything right; controlled the ball skilfully at a full run before hitting it hard and low, straight towards the bottom corner. However, goalkeeper Matt Ryan produced an unbelievable save to deny the Gabonese.
It would be easy to blame Aubameyang for not taking that chance, but sometimes you have to acknowledge that the striker did everything right and simply applaud the opposition goalkeeper for pulling something truly special out of his hat to save his team.
And then, disaster struck in the 35th minute as Stephan Lichtsteiner made an inexplicable mistake and gave striker Jurgen Locadia a clear run at Leno. The Gunners’ shot-stopper then added to the misery by miscalculating both his own pace and that of the ball and allowing the Brighton striker to go around him and put the ball into the unguarded net.
But it was in the second half, when things really took a turn for the worse. By the 60th minute, Brighton could have been up by several goals. Chance after chance they created and missed, no thanks to Arsenal’s defending which was abysmal, once again very reminiscent of the start of the campaign.
Now, with those two points gone down the drain, Arsenal are 13 points behind Liverpool as they prepare to take on the league leaders at Anfield on Saturday. Should they lose and the difference climb to 16, it’ll be very hard to imagine the Gunners still having a chance to fight for the title. Not impossible, but hard to imagine even for the most optimistic among the supporters.
And if they are faced with this level of defending, Mohamed Salah and the rest of their front line will have a field day. Something seriously needs to change by Saturday.