Friday 20 October 2017

Arsene Wenger celebrates 21 years in charge of Arsenal with routine win over Brighton

Arsenal's Alex Iwobi celebrates scoring their second goal with Alexandre Lacazette and Granit Xhaka
Arsenal's Alex Iwobi celebrates scoring their second goal with Alexandre Lacazette and Granit Xhaka

Tom Allnutt

Arsene Wenger celebrated his 21st anniversary as Arsenal manager with a 2-0 win over Brighton and a brilliant team goal scored by Alex Iwobi.

Goals like Iwobi's have become synonymous with Arsenal since Wenger took the reins on October 1, 1996, and this was another gem, finished off after a delicate back-heel from Alexis Sanchez.

Nacho Monreal had earlier put the Gunners in front at Emirates Stadium as Wenger's men made it seven matches unbeaten in all competitions and moved up to fifth in the Premier League table.

Since capping a turbulent August with a dreadful 4-0 defeat at Liverpool, Arsenal have since won six and drawn at Chelsea, whom they now sit level with on 13 points.

This was not Arsenal at their electric best but they never had to be against a Brighton team lacking impetus without a single striker on the pitch. Chris Hughton's side stay 14th.

Just as encouraging for Arsenal as the result was also the performance of Sanchez, whose brilliant piece of skill for Iwobi's goal was just one of many indicators the Chilean may be close to hitting top form again.

Wenger made nine changes from the side that beat BATE Borisov on Thursday but Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Ozil were not among the returners, the pair struggling with Achilles and knee injuries respectively.

Jack Wilshere's excellent display in midweek, meanwhile, was only enough to earn him a spot on the bench.

Brighton began with Isaiah Brown up front to replace the suspended Tomer Hemed while club-record signing Jose Izquierdo made his first Premier League start on the left flank.

The visitors' plan looked to be to absorb and frustrate but Arsenal could have been ahead within three minutes as Alexandre Lacazette lashed a half-volley against the post.

It prompted a relentless spell of early pressure and just after a quarter of an hour, Brighton cracked.

Lacazette was fouled by Izquierdo on the right side of the box and then kept the resulting cross alive by heading the ball back in off the line. As Brighton's defenders claimed for a goal-kick, Shkodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin were lashing off shots before Monreal finally found space to poke in his first league goal since March 2013.

Forced to attack, Brighton were far better from then on and could even have gone in level at half-time.

An impressively choreographed free-kick between Pascal Gross, Dale Stephens and Solly March ended with the latter crashing a long-range drive against Petr Cech's post and Davy Propper curled over from close range just before the interval.

In between, Arsenal had looked dangerous on the counter, with one marauding break including six red and white shirts sprinting towards Brighton's goal.

Aaron Ramsey, however, shot straight at Matthew Ryan, as did Lacazette, who should also have capitalised when Lewis Dunk failed to control Gross' over-hit pass.

The match was less even after the interval, however, and it was little surprise when Iwobi doubled the hosts' advantage with a vintage Arsenal goal.

Iwobi began the move with a pass inside to Sanchez. Sanchez fired the ball to Lacazette who in turn fed Ramsey. Ramsey popped back into the path of Sanchez, who held off a swarm of Brighton defenders before digging out a superb back-heel to free Iwobi. He slammed the finish past Ryan.

Sanchez was almost unplayable in the latter stages and twice he could have scored himself but for a pair of tame finishes. Wenger will hope there is more to come.

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