Dogged and determined, or weak and lifeless? There are two ways to look at the game with Brighton, yet in either case it’s hard to reflect on the match and think Arsenal wouldn’t be happy to leave with a point.
All of which is based on the performance; it wasn’t an especially good one. The Seagulls were by far the better team on the night as they racked up 21 efforts at goal and prevented Arsenal from stringing two passes together. Based on that, the point will do.
After the game, however, a name cropped up. One that every supporter will know all too well: Granit Xhaka.
Had the Swiss midfielder have been playing, would Mikel Arteta’s side have been more structured, assured and controlling? Paul Merson said that Xhaka is a better player when he’s not in the team. That couldn’t be more true.
Arsenal did not miss Granit Xhaka against Brighton and instead some poor performances from Thomas Partey and Martin Odegaard were to blame
Everyone knows like the back of their hand what the 28-year-old can and can’t do; what he offers and what he limits Arsenal from offering. In a game where Brighton pressed Arsenal high and forced the back five to go long into the waiting arms of Lewis Dunk, Dan Burn and Shane Duffy, would Xhaka have been the key to a more progressive team?
We’ve seen matches like this play out before. Getting at Arsenal is the best way to nullify Arsenal. Thus, would having the slowest and least press resistant midfielder in the squad play in such a fixture have solved the issue? It’s hard to think he would.
It’s easy to look at the hypothetical and then revert to Xhaka. Too easy. But at the Amex Stadium the issues facing the Arsenal midfield and lack of centrality was not a Xhaka-ism, it was simply that those on the pitch underperformed.
Albert Sambi Lokonga didn’t show for the ball enough in the build up, Thomas Partey was too wasteful and guilty of the same, while Martin Odegaard could not make anything stick. The trio all had faults, uncharacteristic of their profiles and ability.
One thing that can be said with confidence is that Xhaka always shows for the ball. No matter where or when, he will come short to collect possession and never hides. But that is something different.
In a Premier League season where there will be plenty of results to question this, that and the other, a 0-0 draw against high-flying Brighton where key performers didn’t turn isn’t one of them. Just as this isn’t time for knee-jerk Xhaka talk when he isn’t going to kick a ball for another three months.
Arsenal will miss Xhaka during his absence. But in a fixture where press resistance was imperative and players didn’t do the jobs they usually carry out, this wasn’t one of them.