This was a shot of reality for anyone who expected the verve of Arsenal’s north London derby performance to become commonplace. Their attack never got going in filthy conditions and Brighton, supremely oiled by comparison, appeared the likelier winners for long periods.
Clear chances were at a premium, though, and in the end both teams could claim they are moving broadly in the right direction. Nobody in these parts would quibble with fifth place at this point in the season, while Mikel Arteta can be satisfied by the way his defence weathered the kind of pressure that might have overcome some of its recent predecessors.
The campaign is still young enough for statistics to veer from ominous to appetising on a weekly basis. Nonetheless, Arsenal need to fix the one that stood out here: they have scored five goals in their first seven games, their fewest at this point since 1986-87, and only sporadically threatened to improve on that figure. When Emile Smith Rowe ran onto Thomas Partey’s pass 14 minutes from time, forcing a smart stop from Robert Sánchez, there was a sense they had laid the platform for a late onslaught. But it never materialised and Brighton would finish the match on top, just as they spent most of it.
“It’s a point gained because I don’t think we deserved anything more than that,” Arteta said. “If we did deserve that point it’s because we defended well in the last 15 minutes. We never felt in control of the game, struggled to break the press and impose ourselves in the final third.”
Brighton’s vigour was certainly a notch higher than that of the visitors, with Neal Maupay providing a masterclass in ferocious defending from the front. It was also several removes from Spurs’ contribution at the Emirates six days previously. This time Arsenal were up against one of the best-coached sides in the Premier League: one that hits remarkably consistent levels even if its end product wavers. Graham Potter suggested this was his team’s best display of the season; it improved on an unusually loose offering at Crystal Palace but, as Brighton harried, teased and probed, nothing about their work felt anomalous.
“We played with real courage and intensity against a top team,” Potter said. “We went toe to toe and were brave with what we tried to do. The hardest bit of the game is putting the ball in the net but we were there, we tried.”
Half-chances came and went regularly. Potter’s biggest regret might be that their one glaring opportunity fell midway through the opening period to the centre-half Lewis Dunk, who was ideally placed to convert after Aaron Ramsdale had let a Maupay cross slip free under pressure from Shane Duffy. Stretching to apply the finish, Dunk sent the ball deep into the visiting contingent; Brighton would create openings far more intricately, but none as clear as that.
The absence of Yves Bissouma, a live issue at the start, became immaterial as they penned Arsenal back after the 10-minute mark. Much of their best work came through Marc Cucurella, the game’s outstanding player from left wing-back. “He typified the team’s performance today,” Potter said of the signing from Getafe. Cucurella’s delivery was varied and inventive, balls fizzed across the six-yard box one moment and pulled sharply back to the 18-yard line the next. When he tested Ramsdale with a cross-shot late on the keeper, who was immaculate after his error, parried away.
Dan Burn might have done better with a first-half opportunity while Maupay missed the target with overhead kicks either side of the interval. Towards the end, Ramsdale had to claw a Solly March header away from the poised striker. But Arsenal’s centre-backs, Ben White and Gabriel Magalhaes, were secure and the former passed a difficult test on returning to his old club.
“They’re getting a really good connection, a good chemistry, their qualities match,” Arteta said. If only the same was evident of his front line. A first-minute solo run and shot from Bukayo Saka had boded well but, beyond a bundled header onto the near post from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal were otherwise sterile until Smith Rowe’s chance. Nothing stuck to Aubameyang while Smith Rowe and Martin Ødegaard, so dynamic last weekend, were squeezed out.
Saka hobbled off late on but Arteta said the issue was not serious. A point keeps them, and their more fluent opponents, ticking along. “We have a foundation but we need to keep working,” the ever-modest Potter said. Arsenal can learn from how Brighton are building on it.