We hope Arsenal fans like Pam from the American version of The Office, because they’ve certainly experienced more than their fair share of false Dawns over the years. And yes, fair enough, that is a terrible, groan-inducing way to start, but then again, Arsenal fans are used to those this season, too.
The Gunners’ 4-2 win over Spurs in the first weekend of December felt significant at the time, not only because it was a dominant win over their fiercest rivals, but because it moved them into the top four as they went ahead of their vanquished opponents on goal difference. After years of underachievement, this Arsenal side seemed to have taken a huge step towards a return to Champions League football.
They followed up that impressive derby victory with a 2-2 draw in an almost insultingly poor-quality game against Manchester United, scraped a 1-0 home win over now-bottom Huddersfield thanks to a late Lucas Torreira winner, beat Qarabag 1-0 in a tame match, lost 3-2 to Southampton, were awful in a 2-0 defeat to Tottenham in the EFL Cup, and have now drawn away to Brighton. Their 3-1 win over Burnley at the weekend has been the only real bright spot, and even that has now been undermined by Everton’s 5-1 win in their Boxing Day visit to the out-of-form Clarets.
Safe to say, then, that their huge stride has been followed up by a series of little steps back. They are still in contention for fourth, and that they are more or less keeping pace with Chelsea can be seen as a positive; but Arsenal’s fans will be only too keenly aware that Tottenham responded to that 4-2 loss by going on a five-game winning streak in which they have scored 17 goals and conceded just three, and now sit second in the table. It’s almost as though the whole idea of ‘momentum’ is an overly-simplistic narrative construct we cram uncomfortably onto the sport in order to try and force a sense of story structure onto something that is ultimately largely chaotic.
Arsenal’s duck on first-half leads may have finally been broken as they turned aside Burnley at the weekend, but Arsenal need to learn to be at something like their best throughout the entirety of a match. Brighton absolutely deserved their point from this game, and in fact an xG of 1.35 to Arsenal’s 0.59 suggests they might even have got a slightly raw deal with their solitary point.
Having largely been poor in the first halves of games and better in the second, Arsenal reversed the trend at the Amex, barely creating anything of note and actually spending plenty of the second half penned into their own box by a side that had scored just once in their three previous games, all of which were defeats.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang restored his status as the Premier League’s outright top scorer in the seventh minute, but vanished from play after taking his fourth and final shot of the game in the 30th. Arsenal responded to Jurgen Locadia’s all-too-easy 35th minute equaliser off a long ball by having just one shot in the whole of the rest of the match.
Mesut Ozil is a much-maligned figure at the moment, but while the German was hardly tearing Brighton asunder, nor did his withdrawal at the break in favour of Alex Iwobi do anything at all to help Arsenal break Brighton down. This side’s inability to play to a good standard throughout the full 90 minutes extends far beyond one laconic man.
Perhaps Arsenal need to make another statement victory so they can try this whole ‘momentum’ thing all over again. Conveniently enough, they face still-undefeated Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday. Now that really would be a statement.
Steven Chicken is on Twitter