Arsenal are now in a “different world”, according to manager Mikel Arteta, after they recorded back-to-back league wins for the first time since September by beating Brighton.
Before Christmas, Match of the Day pundit Alan Shearer was among those to question whether the Gunners had what it took to retain the place in the top flight they have held since 1919.
Defeat at Everton on 19 December left them only four points above the relegation zone after 14 games – their worst start to the season since 1974-75.
But fortunes changed with a surprise 3-1 victory over Chelsea last weekend, which has now been followed up by this latest success.
“In this period, we know how much we needed the wins,” Arteta said.
“We had a really tough week and it wasn’t that much about the performance, it was about the result.
“You need the results to start confidence and now with two wins, I think everyone is in a much better mood.
“The best medicine is wins – it’s a different world and a different story. The picture looks much better at the moment. We need that more consistency and try to win again.”
Arteta, in charge of Arsenal since December 2019, said he had suffered “in some moments” this year, but had the support of the club.
The Spaniard, 38, added: “Considering the context we’re in now, the pandemic and the problems we’ve had recently, it’s been quite a challenge.
“I’m enjoying and suffering in some moments, but I have great people around me and a great organisation.”
Tuesday’s display lacked the fizz of that 3-1 win over the Blues, and they were particularly sluggish in the first half when they only managed one effort on goal.
However, the tempo and urgency was turned up a couple of notches after the break, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Gabriel Martinelli going close before French striker Alexandre Lacazette fired home in the 66th minute.
The second-half substitute had only been on the pitch 29 seconds when he swept in Bukayo Saka’s ball for his third goal in three games.
Brighton boss Graham Potter left forwards Neal Maupay and Danny Welbeck on the bench – two of six changes made to the starting XI. His side once again looked comfortable and composed on the ball but it was a frustrating story in attack.
The closest the home side came to scoring was when Alireza Jahanbakhsh forced a sharp save from Bernd Leno at his near post.
Arsenal climb up to 13th and now have 20 points, while Brighton remain two points above the drop zone in 17th.
Second-half revival benefits Arsenal
Did Kieran Tierney give Arsenal’s half-time team-talk?
The Scotland full-back was adamant that the emphatic victory over the Blues was partly due to the side starting on the front foot, so it came as a slight surprise that the Gunners retreated into their shells during the first half against Brighton.
Aubameyang replaced Lacazette in the starting XI, but he was left chasing scraps as his team-mates failed to provide him with adequate service. Thankfully for the club’s fans, it was a match of two halves – their team looked rejuvenated after the break.
Aubameyang went close soon after the restart when he attempted to turn home Saka’s cross but was thwarted by the knee of Robert Sanchez. His side then broke through.
Saka, exceptional on the flanks, this time set up Lacazette, who barely had time to get his studs dirty as he fired his shot past the Seagulls keeper.
The display was in stark contrast with that shown against Chelsea, but the result is the same and will give Arsenal and their fans heart as they head into 2021.
Brighton fall short again
Seagulls supporters might question why their manager chose to leave two of his potent forwards out of the line-up.
Had Maupay, their leading scorer this season, and Welbeck been involved in the first half, then would Brighton have made more of their first-half dominance?
Jahanbakhsh was competent in leading the attack, but only had two efforts on goal. He was wild with one strike from Bernardo’s cross and saw another snap-shot saved by Arsenal’s German stopper Leno.
Potter brought on Maupay, along with wingers Leandro Trossard and Solly March, but by this stage Arsenal were 1-0 up and had seized the initiative – which they were not going to relinquish.
The Brighton boss remained in good spirits, despite his side having last won in the league on 21 November.
“There was lots to be positive about, certainly first half,” he said.
“I thought we did well in the game against a team that has some good attacking players.
“It’s just frustrating that we’re not winning or picking up the points we’d like to.
“We’re doing some things well but we need to carry on improving. This league is so demanding, so punishing. These things can happen and we have to stick together as a group.”
Arsenal defence shine again – stats
- Brighton have won just one of their past 14 Premier League games, drawing seven and losing six.
- Arsenal have won back-to-back league games this season for the first time since their opening two games back in September.
- Brighton end 2020 with just one Premier League home win (17 games), the lowest total of victories on home soil in a calendar year in the history of the competition (excluding promoted and relegated teams, who did not complete a calendar year in the top flight).
- Arsenal kept their fourth away clean sheet of the season in the Premier League, a figure only Aston Villa can better in 2020-21 (five).
- Lacazette has scored in each of his past three games for Arsenal in all competitions, after netting just once in his previous 12.
- He scored 29 seconds after entering the field, the quickest goal by an Arsenal substitute in the Premier League since that data was first recorded at the start of the 2006-07 season.
- Since the start of last season, Bukayo Saka has registered 15 assists in all competitions for Arsenal, more than any other player for the club.
Brighton host Wolves on Saturday (17:30 GMT) and Arsenal are at struggling West Brom on the same day (20:00 GMT).
Brighton & Hove Albion
- 5DunkBooked at 59mins
- 24PröpperSubstituted forMarchat 68′minutes
- 16JahanbakhshBooked at 65minsSubstituted forTrossardat 75′minutes
- 10Mac AllisterSubstituted forMaupayat 67′minutes
- 7SakaSubstituted forCeballosat 81′minutes
- 32Smith RoweSubstituted forMaitland-Nilesat 89′minutes
- 35MartinelliSubstituted forLacazetteat 66′minutes
- 17Cédric Soares
- Martin Atkinson
Match ends, Brighton and Hove Albion 0, Arsenal 1.
Second Half ends, Brighton and Hove Albion 0, Arsenal 1.
Granit Xhaka (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Pascal Groß (Brighton and Hove Albion).
Corner, Brighton and Hove Albion. Conceded by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Foul by Dani Ceballos (Arsenal).
Adam Webster (Brighton and Hove Albion) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Yves Bissouma (Brighton and Hove Albion).
Substitution, Arsenal. Ainsley Maitland-Niles replaces Emile Smith Rowe.
Attempt blocked. Pascal Groß (Brighton and Hove Albion) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Granit Xhaka (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Solly March (Brighton and Hove Albion).
Substitution, Arsenal. Dani Ceballos replaces Bukayo Saka because of an injury.
Foul by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal).
Joël Veltman (Brighton and Hove Albion) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Brighton and Hove Albion. Leandro Trossard replaces Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
Corner, Brighton and Hove Albion. Conceded by Granit Xhaka.
Attempt blocked. Bukayo Saka (Arsenal) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Kieran Tierney.
Substitution, Brighton and Hove Albion. Solly March replaces Davy Pröpper.