The Arsenal vs Brighton match saw one team, Arsenal, with all the motivation. The previous day saw Tottenham lose to Bournemouth opening the door for Arsenal to pull within a point of the coveted Premier League fourth spot and Champion’s League qualification.
Meanwhile, Brighton secured safety from relegation with the Cardiff loss to Crystal Palace. Unfortunately for Arsenal, Brighton didn’t hit the beach early and gave a great account in a 1-1 draw courtesy of two penalty goals. The result nearly guarantees no Champion’s League for The Gunners. The dropped points put them three behind Tottenham with one match remaining and behind by eight on goal differential.
This tactical analysis will highlight two areas that were keys to the 1-1 draw. The first was Brighton’s defensive setup that forced Arsenal to play on the width. The second analysis item of note was Brighton’s intentional attack down the left side of the pitch. A clear targeting of Arsenal defender Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Arsenal came out in a 4-3-1-2 formation. Bernd Leno in goal with Nacho Monreal, Sokratis, Shkodran Mustafi, and Stephan Lichtsteiner in the back four. The midfield was anchored by Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Granit Xhaka, and Lucas Torreira. Mesut Özil played in the hole behind strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
Brighton countered with a 4-5-1 alignment. Mathew Ryan in goal with a backline of Bruno Saltor, Shane Duffy, Lewis Dunk, and Bernardo. The midfield was a block of five featuring Alireza Jahanbaksh, Pascal Groß, Dale Stephens, Yves Bissouma, and Solly March. Glenn Murray was the lone striker up top.
Brighton had clear intentions of clogging up the centre of the pitch and forcing Arsenal to attack through the width. A solid mid and low block was formed with Murray at the top encouraging Arsenal to go wide. The midfield block of five stayed narrow attempting to take away passes into attackers feet in the centre.
Here we see Brighton clogging the middle of the pitch and successfully cutting off passing lanes to the Arsenal attackers who are positioned between the lines.
Here is another image of the organized Brighton defence. The slow Arsenal buildup allowed Brighton to dictate the areas of the field for Arsenal to pass into. Brighton was content allowing Arsenal to slowly pass the ball side to side.
When Arsenal got the ball wide, Brighton was well positioned to handle both runners off the ball and win crosses. Here we see Özil on the ball out wide and all Arsenal players off the ball accounted for. Note both central defenders, Dunk and Duffy are looking off the ball to ensure the defence is organized in the box.
The Brighton strategy of forcing the play wide paid off. Arsenal had a dominant 67% possession for the match and a shot advantage of 20 to Brighton’s 11. The shot difference was not as disparate as it appears. In open play, Arsenal had 11 shots and Brighton had 9. The remaining nine Arsenal shots came from set pieces against a Brighton team that ranks second best in Premier League giving up only eight set piece goals all season.
Arsenal for the match had 41 crosses and only two through balls and the xG according to wyscout.com was 2.98 for Arsenal and 2.1 for Brighton. Arsenal came into the match averaging only 16 crosses a match according to statistics from whoscored.com. Brighton took Arsenal out of their comfort zone and forced Arsenal to beat them via a high variance crossing and heading style.
Brighton attacking Lichtsteiner
Lichtsteiner was featuring in the Arsenal lineup for the first time since February 24th. Brighton came out with clear intentions of attacking down his side of the pitch, looking to exploit the 35-year-old right back. Brighton utilized Solly March, Yves Bissouma, and Bernardo to overload the left side in attack.
Here we see March pinning back the Arsenal defender, Lichtsteiner, with Bissouma open between the lines.
Bissouma receives and drives forward with the ball which forces Lichtsteiner to turn his back to both the ball and March out wide.
Bissouma finally draws Lichtsteiner towards him and plays the ball wide to March. The result is March entering the box in a one on one duel.
Here is another overload sequence that demonstrates Brighton’s intentionality of going at Lichtsteiner. A ball is played to the left to Bissouma.
Bissouma receives and plays wide to the overlapping Bernardo.
Once again Lichtsteiner is in a tough situation. March makes a run into the channel and Bernardo attacks directly at Lichtsteiner on the dribble.
The result of the play again is a one on one battle with March inside the box.
Brighton had 49% of their attacks going down Lichtsteiner’s side. A clear targeting from Brighton.
The attacking down the left side build up was successful due to Bissouma’s 10 successful dribbles. As seen in the graphic below, Bissouma was highly successful in getting past players on the left side. His success allowed Brighton to get at Lichtsteiner.
For the match, Solly March had nine crosses with seven of those coming from within the box. He had a great game of getting into dangerous spots. Unfortunately, he only connected on two of his crosses. He also had seven successful dribbles in the match that all came in dangerous areas of the pitch. The graphic below shows the dangerous spots that March was dribbling into.
The important dribble came when March was fouled in the penalty area by Granit Xhaka in the 59th minute. Glenn Murray buried the subsequent equaliser from the spot.
A clear must-win match for Arsenal, the result was a clear disappointment. Brighton played to their strengths in forcing Arsenal to go wide in attack. The central defending duo of Duffy and Dunk were forced into dealing with the numerous Arsenal crosses and they were up to the task.
In attack, Brighton had a clear game plan on what area of the field to exploit and stuck with that plan. Bissouma and March led the attack down the left isolating Lichtsteiner at the edge of the box. With little to play for, Brighton relished the role of Champion’s League spoiler.
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