After an under par first-half performance, the boys stepped it up in the second half and earned themselves a hard-fought win on the south coast. This was all about fitness levels for ninety minutes and patience; and it seemed to me that Arteta had instructed the boys to start compact and not to use too much energy initially. In the second half, the brakes were loosened and the boys started to combine some fine passes which led to a few more than half-decent chances. Unfortunately, Auba lacked once again his ‘normal’ cool and precision and Martinelli was also not decisive if and when a half-chance came to him.
But Arteta was on it; he brought on Laca and within 21 seconds – the expected time for most mammals larger than a rat to pee – he struck gold. A glorious run from our own half by Saka, shrugging off players like they were made of fluff in the process, made all the difference. Saka’s run was impressive enough, but he still had the composure to look up, spot Laca, and place the ball perfectly in front of him – the ball was never off the ground. Laca had time to take the all important first touch and then he found the net like a seasoned sharpshooter. It really was the only and decisive highlight of the game. It was not vintage Arsenal, but the salt and dirt from this game will have tasted extra nice when the boys took their showers after the game. It was a victory of cup game proportions. Arsenal just had to win it, and win they did.
Player Ratings – all boys get an extra half point for commitment.
Leno: 8 – this was a very assured performance by our German goalkeeper. I loved the way he got down quickly and decisively twice, holding on to the ball in the process. Assured in the air, as he once again enjoyed the protection of two classical, ‘English’ CBs. Distribution was not bad, especially with so few options for him for the long balls.
Tierney: 7.5 – did his job in defence well and tried hard to make things happen in attack, with a few peaches of crosses.
Mari and Holding: 7.5 – strong in the air and calm on the ground. Brighton were disappointing and they were only going to score from a high ball into the box today. Both Mari and Holding were not having it and bossed the castle all game long. Passing out from the back and long balls are for both a work in progress, but these boys will fight for us all the way.
Bellerin: 7.5 – it looks like Hector is starting to find his groove again, and he really likes working with Saka both in attack and in defence.
Elneny: 7 – looked tired at times and made a few mistakes, but he also made one or two vital interceptions and always reads the game well when we are defending.
Xhaka: 7.5 – nothing fancy today, just hard work, concentration and reading the game well for ninety minutes. It’s sad to think that just one mistake will make many Gooners jump on him again. Arteta simply loves him.
Martinelli: 7 – BHA knew that the danger would come from Marti and Saka, and they were on them constantly in the first half. They also were very disciplined in blocking off the sides and kept us at bay for quite a while. Marti was less influential than in the Chelsea game, but his hard work was nevertheless important for us.
ESR: 8 – Emile really impressed me with his positioning and discipline; he gave hardly anything away and avoided making fouls for ninety minutes. He may be regarded as a nr10 by many but today he showed he is on his way to becoming a complete midfielder.
Saka: 8.5 – MOTM – worked hard and played so maturely. And then that run, dribble and quality ball into the box for Laca that made all the difference. A very, very fine assist. He is so good Arteta just does not dare to take him off… yet he has to be careful not to overplay Bukayo.
Auba: 6 – Pierre is struggling to regain his phenomenal form of last seasons, and once again he was not sharp when it mattered. But I did like his work rate in defence and so a six seems appropriate.
Laca: 8 – to come off the bench like that and take your chance with such calm and calculated execution is very special. This was not a tap in but a fine goal that earned us three points (or two if you are pedantic about it 😉 ). This is were experience pays off; a masterstroke by Arteta.
Ceballos and AMN were not long enough on the pitch to pass judgement.