Arsenal beat Brighton & Hove Albion 4-2 on Saturday as goals from Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard, Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli sent the Gunners seven points clear at the top of the Premier League.
Saka scored the opening goal after just 66 seconds before Odegaard doubled the visitors’ lead six-minutes in the 39th minute on a rainswept night at Amex Stadium.
Nketiah poked home a third just after the restart before Kaoru Mitoma briefly raised Brighton’s hopes 18 minutes later, only for Martinelli to strike in the 71st minute.
Substitute Evan Ferguson, 18, scored his first league goal with 13 minutes remaining and Mitoma thought he had brought Brighton to within a one-goal deficit but his 89th-minute effort was ruled out on VAR review for offside and Mikel Arteta’s side held on for a deserved victory.
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JUMP TO: Player ratings | Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Postmatch quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures
1. Arsenal seize on City, Newcastle misses to extend Premier League lead
The Gunners already knew they would end 2022 at the top of the Premier League but results earlier on Saturday made this an unexpected golden opportunity to extend their advantage.
Manchester City’s surprise 1-1 draw at home to Everton
Yet rather than be inhibited by the raised stakes, they excelled and grasped the chance presented to them with both hands. From the moment Saka gave Arsenal a second-minute lead, the Gunners played with a mixture of authority and composure for long periods before surviving a late Brighton rally in a manner which bodes well for the challenges ahead.
They were happy to concede possession (they had just 32% of the ball) and stay compact to pick their opponents off on the break, demonstrating a versatility which will please manager Mikel Arteta.
No side has ever been seven points (or more) clear on New Year’s Day and not won the Premier League. This particular season is skewed in that context given the mid-season World Cup means fewer games have been played to this point but nevertheless, the Gunners are in an extremely exciting position.
2. Like Haaland, Odegaard benefiting from Norway’s World Cup miss
Much was made of Norway’s failure to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, meaning that Erling Haaland could enjoy five weeks resting up before continuing his devastating form with Manchester City. However, the same is true of Martin Odegaard. After a man-of-the-match display against West Ham United on Boxing Day, Odegaard was once again heavily influential here.
He produced a jawdropping moment of skill which almost led to stunning goal for Gabriel Martinelli before scoring Arsenal’s second goal himself, albeit with a scruffy left-footed finish. There was nothing scruffy about his sublime assist for Martinelli in the second half, steering a brilliant first-time through ball for the Brazilian to net Arsenal’s fourth.
Odegaard now has seven goals and five assists from 15 league matches this season, more than his tally for the entirety of the previous campaign. Made captain aged just 24 in the summer, Odegaard is not the most vocal presence on the pitch but Arteta wants him to lead by example and that is precisely what the midfielder is doing at present.
Don Hutchison and Julien Laurens explain what Mykhailo Mudryk could bring to Arsenal.
3. Are you watching, Mykhailo? Transfer targets will like what they see
For the second time in less than a week, Mykhailo Mudryk made it clear he was watching. Arsenal’s top January transfer target used his Instagram account to capture a television screen showing this game. The image showed Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi (Mudryk’s former coach at Shakhtar Donetsk) alongside Arteta with the caption ‘Two top coach[es]” and so the message was clear.
Mudryk is keen on a move to north London but the two clubs are yet to agree a fee with Shakhtar insisting they want a fee in the region of €100 million for the 21-year-old. Results like this will only reinforce the view that Arsenal are going places under Arteta, making them more attractive when the transfer window officially opens tomorrow.
The Gunners are thought to be considering a move for a striker, possibly on loan, following a knee injury to Gabriel Jesus which will rule him out for three months. Top of the league and playing such good football, why wouldn’t a top player want to be part of something with this much potential?
Brighton: Robert Sanchez 6, Tariq Lamptey 7, Lewis Dunk 6, Levi Colwill 6, Pervis Estupinan 6, Billy Gilmour 6, Pascal Gross 7, Solly March 7, Adam Lallana 5, Kaoru Mitoma 7, Leandro Trossard 6.
Subs: Jeremy Sarmiento 6, Evan Ferguson 7. Julio Enciso 6.
Arsenal: Aaron Ramsdale 6, Ben White 7, Gabriel Magalhaes 7, William Saliba 6, Oleksandr Zinchenko 7, Martin Odegaard 9, Thomas Partey 8, Granit Xhaka 7, Bukayo Saka 8, Eddie Nketiah 7, Gabriel Martinelli 8.
Subs: Takehiro Tomiyasu 6, Kieran Tierney 6, Mohamed Elneny 6, Rob Holding 6.
Best and worst performers
Best performer: Martin Odegaard, Arsenal.
Ran close by several teammates including Saka and Martinelli, but Odegaard’s superb assist for their fourth goal settled the contest.
Worst performer: Adam Lallana, Brighton.
Completed just eight of his 14 passes and failed to make an impact before being substituted on 61 minutes.
Highlights and notable moments
Easiest way to control a game is to score early, which Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka did within two minutes.
Well, that was fast. 😳
Bukayo Saka fires Arsenal into the lead in just the second minute!
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) December 31, 2022
Saka and the rest of Arsenal’s front-line has really stepped up with the absence of striker Gabriel Jesus due to injury.
After the match: What the players/managers said
Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka on being top of the table, to Sky Sports: “Amazing. Of course at the start of the season if you asked us if we wanted this we would bite your hand off. We are really happy.”
Saka on his early goal, to Sky Sports: “There was big emphasis. We know how hard it is to come here and the weather as well — it wasn’t easy. That goal nice and early set us up. I couldn’t believe it fell for me. I just had to try and show some composure.”
Arsenal’s Martin Odegaard on the Premier League race, to Sky Sports: “We don’t care about the other teams. Three points was everyting today and we did it. Maybe we need to control the game a bit bettter, we let them in a couple of times, but they are a good team, good on the ball.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– Bukayo Saka’s early score was the second Arsenal goal in the first two minutes of a league match this season (Gabriel Martinelli scored in 1st minute against Liverpool on Oct. 9). The last time Arsenal had two such goals in a Premier League season was 2013-14.
– Martin Odegaard has seven Premier League goals this season in just 16 games, tying the career-high he set in all of the 2021-22 campaign.
– At the age of 18 years and 74 days, Brighton’s Evan Ferguson becomes the youngest player from the Republic of Ireland to score a Premier League goal.
Brighton: A visit to Everton next Tuesday on Jan. 3 before a trip to Championship side Middlesborough in FA Cup action on Jan. 7.
Arsenal: Back at the Emirates on Jan. 3, where Newcastle will await for a clash between top-three sides. Then to third-tier Oxford United on Jan. 9 for a FA Cup clash.