After a harrowing defeat at the hands of Manchester City two days ago, Arsenal travelled to The Amex to take on Brighton and Hove Albion. Graham Potter’s men who were returning for their first game since the break were staring down the relegation barrel meanwhile Gunners had their eyes set upon European places.
The result that followed at the end of the full-time whistle left Mikel Arteta’s men in sheer agony as the Seagulls pulled a double over Arsenal for the first time in Premier League history.
The home side lined up in a 4–2–3–1 shape with Neil Maupay, Pascal Groß, Aaron Mooy and Leandro Trossard leading the Seagulls charge. Lewis Dunk partnered Adam Webster in defence alongside Dan Burn and Ezequiel Schelotto. Davy Propper and Yves Bissouma formed a double pivot in midfield providing unparalleled support to both the defensive and attacking unit.
Arteta, on the other hand, dealing with injuries and suspensions chose a 4–3–3 system with a lot of changes in personnel. The unavailability of Pablo Mari and David Luiz meant Rob Holding got the nod alongside Shkodran Mustafi. Sead Kolasinac was also preferred over Kieran Tierney from the last matchday.
Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette made a comeback into the starting XI as Edward Nketiah and Joseph Willock drop to the bench. Dani Ceballos was also given the start seeing Granit Xhaka was sidelined due to injury.
Arsenal’s buildup and attacking style
Gunners under Arteta have looked reminiscent of Guardiola’s 2–3–5 system at Manchester City. The use of inverted fullbacks, wingers stretching the opposition backline by hugging the touchline and attacking midfielders occupying half-spaces are some of the tactics the 38-year-old has used so far in his time in London.
However, not everything is identical and Arteta has come up with his own innovations to suit the personnel at his new club. To further understand, let’s take a look at the players’ average position against Brighton.
As we can see a lopsided 3–4-3 shape with Kolasinac accompanying the two centre-backs. Bellerin occupies the space in midfield in an inverted fullback role alongside Guendouzi, Saka and Ceballos. Lacazette is constantly dropping deep between Aubameyang occupying half-spaces and Pepe tilting towards the touchline.
Let’s move further and analyse how Arsenal build from the back. One of the two fullbacks, mainly Kolasinac, stays put and forms a three-man backline while the other, usually Bellerin, occupies the space alongside Matteo Guendouzi in the inverted fullback role.
This helps the Gunners to counter any transition from the opposition and limit open spaces in their defensive and middle third while allowing numerical superiority in the midfield.
When moving the ball higher up the pitch, Kolasinac turns into a conventional fullback and stretch the wings along with Pepe. Ceballos and Saka occupy the half-spaces ahead of Guendouzi and Bellerin with Lacazette and Aubameyang engaging with opposition centre-backs upfront.
The Gunners also enjoy a fluid system when in attacking third which often means the players interchange position amongst themselves on numerous occasions maintaining the same system. As we can see in the example above, the Gabonese international is dropping deep while the teenager -Saka- is moving into an advanced position but the overall numbers in each zone remain the same.
As time went on, the Seagulls grew into the game and limited the Gunners’ buildup to the middle third. To curb their advancement, Ceballos and Lacazette constantly dropped deep offering themselves as a passing option to receive passes from the backline.
This achieved two major things for the north London club. Firstly, they were successful in breaking the numerical superiority of their opponent. Secondly, this made sure they were successful in pulling out their markers which in turn opened up spaces for their teammates, in this instance, Saka benefitted largely from it and Arsenal produced a dangerous opportunity in their attacking third.
Brighton’s style of play
Brighton under Potter are positive in their approach to the game and while the 45-year-old English manager likes to play an attacking style of play, he remains tactically flexible in his coaching style.
As we can see from Seagulls’ average position map, they stuck to a middle and low block in a 3–5–2 shape with the attacking and defensive line covering a mere 42m between them.
Switching to the Seagulls’ buildup play, Potter likes to play from the back and in Ryan, Dunk, Webster, Bissouma and Propper, he has got the tools to achieve it. The fullbacks often push high with the double pivot aiding the centre-backs and the goalkeeper in playing the ball out the back.
As we can see in the image below, the two centre-backs split open and the double pivot drops deep to offer passing lanes to their keeper. It’s worth noting that if the opposition does end up pressing Brighton unlike Arsenal is doing here, advanced fullbacks are also an option for the Australian international.
Brighton usually looks to implement their practice of creating numerical superiorities on the pitch – be it building from the back as we can see above or playing their way through the opposition lines.
Another highly effective way in which the Seagulls surprise their opposition is with direct play, thanks to excellent passing skills at the back and the movement and aggressive running of forwards like Neil Maupay.
The first instance shows Dunk finding time and space in the middle third to let Maupay loose on the run as they seek to exploit spaces behind the Gunners defensive line. The idea remains the same with Propper in the second one as Seagulls midfielder launched another lob pass but Leno comes out to save the day for Arsenal.
Both teams had a mediocre outing when it comes to pressing behaviours over the course of 90 minutes. As the graph down below demonstrates, it was a game of two halves with the visitors dominating the metric in the first half while the Seagulls coming to life in the second 45.
Potter’s men pressed in a 4–3–3 shape when out of possession. Trossard, Groß and Maupay followed by the support from Mooy, Bissouma and Propper tried to cut down passing lanes and close down the man in possession ensuring Seagulls win back possession.
While the Seagulls were above average when they pressed Arsenal in the opposition half, they were subpar when it came to closing down spaces in and around the penalty box. Let’s look at the image below when Saka managed to create space for himself only for the crossbar to come to Brighton’s rescue.
Dunk and Webster backed off when they should have attacked the ball and allowed the Englishmen ample time and space at the edge of the box to conjure up a shot.
A similar pattern emerged when Pepe gave Gunners the lead in the 68th minute. March and Bissouma backed off rather than attacking the ball, allowing the Ivorian sufficient space and touches on the ball. The result was a helpless Ryan picking up the ball from the back of the net.
Arsenal, on the other hand, were not excellent but managed to outmanoeuvre their adversary with a PPDA of 10.4 as compared to Brighton’s 12.4. As we have seen above, Potter’s side builds up with four at the back creating numerical superiority in their defensive third.
To counteract this, Arsenal came up with a man-marking approach. Ceballos joined the front three of Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang while Saka followed anyone dropping deep from the attacking front.
Let’s look at another such example. At the start of the second half with the onus on Arsenal to go for the three points, we see a similar pressing strategy from Arteta’s men. In the process, a 6v5 is formed with Brighton posing a minimal advantage in their defensive third.
However, thanks to intelligent pressing by Pepe and Lacazette who collaborated to cover three Brighton players simultaneously while Ceballos, Saka and Aubameyang took care of the other three.
Arsenal’s lack of communication in defence
Even though Arteta’s men were the better team when it comes to pressing the opponent, their lack of communication cost them dearly in their quest for three points.
It’s worth pondering upon that all of these events happened in the last 20 minutes of the game, which could highlight the players feeling fatigued towards the end especially when you take into account they played a full game just two days ago.
As we can see in the image above, Bellerin and Ceballos get drawn in by Trossard who cheekily lifts it into space for his teammate. Guendouzi who doesn’t alert either of his teammates also fail to cover the space himself resulting in a dangerous attack for Brighton.
Not learning from their mistakes has somewhat become Arsenal’s forte and this next mistake will probably cost them a European place next season.
Brighton won a corner and decided to surprise Arsenal by taking a short one. Arteta’s side who were probably unaware of their surroundings were caught in a 2v1 situation as Aubameyang was left alone against Trossard and Solly March.
The pair exchanged a couple of passes and with Lacazette reacting late and with a little bit of luck, the ball ended up in the back of the net.
As if conceding one wasn’t enough, Arsenal were once again caught out in between transitions as they tried to formulate a counter-attack off a Brighton corner. The culprit on this occasion was Mustafi who didn’t limit the space in time and March laid off an easy pass for Propper in behind.
Arsenal’s xG of 1.57 to Brighton’s 1.12 clearly highlights that the Gunners created better chances over the course of the game. However, their lack of discipline and moments of negligence resulted in their downfall.
Three points for Potter’s men means they now have some breathing space in the relegation battle. The win against Arsenal would be a major boost to the Seagulls who now sit at 15th in the table.
Gunners, on the other hand, have hit a massive roadblock in their path towards Champions League qualification for next season. Back to back defeats since the break, injuries piling after each game and the trauma of losing from a winning position won’t help Arsenal’s cause as we head into the final stretch of the season.