Monday 12 November 2018

Hughton taking nothing for granted as Arsenal suffer painful lesson

Hughton has moulded this team into a fighting force, but one now scoring plenty of goals and
showing flashes of creativity. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Hughton has moulded this team into a fighting force, but one now scoring plenty of goals and showing flashes of creativity. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Paul Hayward

After two hard lessons from Pep Guardiola, Arsene Wenger took a third from Chris Hughton, whose Brighton side display the strengths Arsenal lack: commitment, cohesion and the urge to fight for their manager.

If any of these Arsenal players have given up on Wenger - or are trying to get him sacked - they can expect less protection from the next man in.

Even after this vortex-accelerating defeat, Wenger said: "The team needs more support at the moment."

Support is not what they need. They need to be held to account. In Hughton's world there would be no place for dilettantes.

Losing twice in a row to Manchester City offered fig leaves. City's brilliance could be used as an excuse. But there was no hiding place yesterday.

Brighton managed to beat the once mighty Arsenal with their record signing, Jurgen Locadia, on the bench.

Hughton has moulded this team into a fighting force, but one now scoring plenty of goals and showing flashes of creativity.

Brighton, in other words, are evolving, learning, settling into Premier League life - to the extent that 10th position and 34 points now mark them out as probable survivors despite their hellish run-in of Spurs, Manchester United, Liverpool and City.

Yesterday's victory moved the Seagulls are seven points clear of the relegation zone.

Hughton called that "very comforting". But he added: "We're all professionals around here and, come tomorrow, our thoughts have to be on the next game. Can we get more points to make it even more comforting?

"As soon as you take your foot off the pedal, there are too many good teams around who can knock you down again."

The theory in such fixtures was always that Brighton could learn a lot from Arsenal. Instead, Arsenal had much to learn from Brighton, who were 3/1 with bookmakers to win the game.

At the back, Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy were more vigilant and resolute than Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny, who looks a broken man. And in central midfield, Dale Stephens and Davy Propper overshadowed Granit Xhaka, who was absymal, though Jack Wilshere did at least carry the game to Brighton.

Hughton's team formed a disciplined defensive block and applied basic professional tenacity to the job. In contrast, Arsenal were passive and timid.

Hughton spoke of the focus-sharpening stress that comes with the threat of relegation, especially for a promoted club.

Handling that pressure so well has been one of the strengths of his management in a campaign where Brighton have backed their scouting department rather than splashed on big or established names.

Pascal Gross, for example, is no Mesut Ozil, but he is more dependable than his fellow German playmaker (and he cost only £3m).

"We've been on the edge all season," Hughton said, after Brighton's first win over top-six opponents.

"Every game we come into we have to play at a level to get something.

"We're definitely hitting our best form at the right stage of the season. It's now whether we can take it forward.

"This result alleviates a bit of the pressure. Hopefully it will create some confidence. This group are working hard, giving themselves every chance."

Maybe if Wenger returned to those fundamentals of management he would also give himself a "chance". But it looks too late.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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