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A watchable grapple in the rain will leave both teams feeling they are broadly moving in the right direction. While Brighton were the better side, they did not create enough clear chances to force the goal their reliably smooth approach work merited; they will not be too unhappy to finish the day in fifth place, though, while Arsenal will take some heart from another baby step forwards.
Mikel Arteta will surely seek more consistent goal threat and fluidity from his players, who were so expressive in defeating Spurs last Sunday, but his defence held firm in periods of severe pressure where some of its recent predecessors may have buckled.
Filthy conditions on the south coast were not especially conducive to a meeting of sides with similar footballing ideals. That was not the only mutual inconvenience: both were missing a first-choice midfielder, with Yves Bissouma and Granit Xhaka sidelined by knee injuries. Xhaka’s case is the more serious and Albert Sambi Lokonga, who began in his place here, should have a prolonged chance to stake his claim over the next three months.
The early intent was evident even if execution wavered. Within a minute of kick-off Bukayo Saka had wriggled inside from the right, darting between two defenders and finding space for a shot that, after all that good work, should have presented a bigger problem for Robert Sánchez.
Without Bissouma’s steel, Brighton’s engine room risked appearing lightweight. They do not lack subtlety, though and when Adam Lallana sent Marc Cucurella away down the left with a perceptive first-time pass a watchful Kieran Tierney did well to turn the resulting centre behind.
Brighton had settled nicely after a scratchy start; they threatened again when Jakub Moder found Leandro Trossard in space along the opposite flank, the forward assessing his options before dragging a cross-shot past Aaron Ramsdale’s far post.
Ramsdale’s performances since arriving from Sheffield United had been impeccable but he was fortunate when, as the first half approached its midway point, he dropped a Neal Maupay cross under pressure from Shane Duffy. The slippery ball may have contributed; Lewis Dunk should have capitalised but, sliding in from six yards, found the back row of the away following when a goal seemed certain.
Brighton were well on top, although they survived a scare when Saka skipped beyond Dan Burn and, after his cross was deflected, saw Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang head on to the outside of the near post. The opportunities kept coming for an assured home side whose former centre-back, Ben White, had his work cut out. It was White, with an excellent piece of defending, who stopped Trossard converting Lallana’s half-volleyed centre; Burn, with a good headed chance, and Maupay then both missed the target.
By half-time the biggest risk for Brighton, for whom the wing-back Cucurella had been outstanding, was that they might regret not exploiting numerous favourable situations. Thomas Partey clipped wide from another rare Arsenal sortie but the visitors could feel relieved to go in level.
Moder curled wide in the 50th minute after another slick move from Brighton, whose level of performance is so admirably consistent. Their commitment to the muckier side of things was evident when Maupay, their striker, chased back 20 yards into his own half to stop Martin Ødegaard leading an Arsenal raid.
Another counter led to Partey sending Aubameyang clear only for Duffy, recovering brilliantly with Sánchez beaten, to intercept at the last. In the event Aubameyang was, extremely belatedly, flagged offside. There was a case to suspect that, given the firepower on their bench, Arsenal might be favoured the longer the status quo continued. To test that theory Arteta brought on Nicolas Pépé for Ødegaard, who had found it difficult to make inroads.
After a spate of Arsenal pressure, Gabriel Magalhaes and Dunk required treatment after colliding with Sánchez as he cleared a cross. Arsenal were creating little but their share of the game had certainly increased.
Aubameyang, who had only been fitfully involved, was replaced by the lesser-spotted Alexandre Lacazette. The substitute immediately contributed to Arsenal’s best chance of the evening, teeing up Partey to release Emile Smith Rowe who demanded a smart save of Sánchez.
Brighton were listing for the first time but Cucurella, quieter since the interval, quickly forced Ramsdale to push an awkward cross away.
Brighton finished on top, Ramsdale stretching to prevent Maupay from converting a Solly March header and Duffy nodding wide from the corner. The moment of incision would not quite come.