Thursday 19 July 2018

Arsenal continue recovery but season's script remains unchanged

Arsenal 2 Brighton 0

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Reuters
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Reuters

Jeremy Wilson

A sixth win in seven unbeaten matches would be the catalyst for a surge of optimism at most clubs but, on his 21st anniversary as Arsenal manager, even Arsene Wenger should understand why the glass remains only half full for most of his followers.

Yes, what Wenger himself last night called the "nightmare" that followed Arsenal's surrender at Liverpool is being quietly erased and his team are now back into the top six for the first time since the start of the season.

Alex Iwobi celebrates scoring his sides' second goal with his Arsenal team mates. Photo: Getty Images
Alex Iwobi celebrates scoring his sides' second goal with his Arsenal team mates. Photo: Getty Images

But are they really any closer to mounting a Premier League title challenge?

Even allowing for what was an 11th straight win at the Emirates, a goal difference this season of plus three against the combined plus 39 of the two Manchester clubs hints at the probable answer.

A season-long battle with Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool for the remaining Champions League places still seems the most likely outcome.

A goal in either half by Nacho Monreal and Alex Iwobi sealed the sort of routine win that at least now provides a platform for Arsenal to change the script of a Premier League season that is so far following the patterns of the past decade with unerring accuracy.

Shane Duffy of Brighton and Hove Albion headers the ball away from Aaron Ramsey. Photo: Getty Images
Shane Duffy of Brighton and Hove Albion headers the ball away from Aaron Ramsey. Photo: Getty Images

That is to say, a damaging early jolt followed by an admirable period of consolidation before a pivotal defeat when the chance really comes to change the narrative.

Wenger (left) was open about the inconsistencies in this match and was also not ready to make any bold predictions about the rest of the season.

"It is very early," he said. "Seven games played and 31 to go. Last year Man City was top after six games with 18 points, so let's not go too quick to conclusions. I knew that after the game in Liverpool everybody would write us off but nothing is permanent.

"You're not bad in a permanent way; you can do something about it. And you're not good in a permanent way if you don't keep your urgency. We responded in a united way."

With Arsenal dominant both in shots and possession, Iwobi was especially influential against a Brighton team that could largely thank centre-back Lewis Dunk for keeping the scoreline respectable.

Wenger has set Iwobi a target of 10 goals and at least six assists this season, with his performance and the depth of the wider attacking options again underlining how Mesut Ozil remains barely missed amid a knee injury that will rule him out of international duty with Germany.

Wenger also expects Laurent Koscielny to pull out of France's squad amid his ongoing Achilles tendon problem but does expect them both back, as well as Danny Welbeck, later this month.

It all meant nine changes from the team that beat BATE Borisov in Belarus on Thursday, with Alexandre Lacazette returning in place of Olivier Giroud and underlining his quality in front of goal after just 65 seconds with a powerful shot that cannoned off the inside of the post.

The pattern had been set, with Brighton defending deeply and largely leaving only Isaiah Brown in front of the ball.

It soon felt like only a matter of time before Arsenal would score, and a goal arrived after a frantic scramble in the Brighton penalty area that had seen Shane Duffy clear Shkodran Mustafi's shot off the line before Monreal seized emphatically on a rare chance.

Arsenal's goal seemed almost to have a liberating impact on Brighton, who did then briefly begin attacking with more purpose.

But then Arsenal broke with Alexis Sanchez, who fed Hector Bellerin before the ball was played out wide to Sead Kolasinac. He then found Aaron Ramsey's late run into the penalty area but Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan prevented what would have been an outstanding team goal with his outstretched leg.

There was more superb build-up play shortly after half-time, with Sanchez then producing a wonderfully improvised back-heel to gift Iwobi a chance that he finished past Ryan.

Wenger had not initially realised that this was his 21st birthday at the club.

"No-one can make 21 years and only fly; you know you will have good and bad moments," he said.

"I preach in the desert sometimes a little bit because when you listen to people it's only about winning and only about buying players but for me a football club is first about values. I have always kept my focus in the good and bad circumstances." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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