We are in a negative cycle, no doubt about it, but Brighton deserve a lot of credit for their performance today.
I said in my post Manchester City match thoughts that Sunday’s game at Brighton would be different. I didn’t mean any disrespect to the Seagulls, I just thought they would set up in a different structure, allow us to try and work through them and then hit us on the counter attack.
As it turned out, the hosts took full advantage of our lack of confidence- like a boxer who has his opponent on the ropes, nose broken and both eyes swollen- and were 2–0 up within 20 minutes.
I’m disappointed with how the goals came about. Shane Duffy managed to beat Petr Cech to a really deep cross, nodded it across goal and Lewis Dunk prodded in to open the scoring. Cech has to do better- but I also wonder about his positioning. It was a long way to go not to win the ball. Could our defenders have reacted quicker to prevent a tap in? Perhaps. There’s an argument that you want your keeper to be big and commanding, and take the pressure off your back line. But perhaps he should have trusted his defence to alleviate the danger in the first place.
But then you trust your defence not to give the ball away in bad areas too. Laurent Koscielny’s poor pass to Jack Wilshere was pounced upon, fed out wide immediately for Pascal Gross, who whipped a brilliant cross in for Glenn Murray, who towered above Shkodran Mustafi to head down and under Cech.
From a defensive point of view, Mustafi didn’t do enough to deter Murray, and then Cech faltered in letting the ball pass underneath his body. I’ve talked before about how individual errors have cost us this season but again, we’ve started another game poorly.
It did epitomise Brighton’s afternoon though. They were bold, strong and gritty. Duffy took a fist to the head in setting the first goal up. We took to venting our frustration at the referee rather than matching the home side for “fight”.
We seem crippled with a void of confidence both individually and collectively. I can’t count the amount of times Mustafi passed backwards to Cech rather than searching out a central midfielder. If no one is ‘on’, then play it into the wide areas and make the other side work. I love our philosophy and when it works it is beautiful to behold. But when you’re struggling, and find yourself 2–0 away from home, I don’t see why we don’t work this way.
Their second goal is my case in point. Ok, we no longer have a physical aerial threat up front but we still make their centre backs have to deal with the threat. The number of times we played nice little triangles on the edge of their box, to then be crowded out and play backwards, was frustrating. Sure, we kept the ball, but it’s easy for a highly organised side to switch from left to right, and back across time and again.
If Glenn Murray had pace, we would have been in bigger trouble today.
We had to rotate with Thursday night in Milan in mind. Welbeck will start up front, and Bellerin has played a lot of minutes recently. Ramsey was left at home, and he is big loss to this side.
So this meant Alex Iwobi started wide left, and Calum Chambers came in at right-back. I don’t think the latter did too badly considering the form and pace of José Izquierdo, but I would have liked to have seen Ainsley Maitland-Niles given the nod, and perhaps Chambers at centre-back with Koscielny.
On Iwobi, I have tried to show patience with him. But it’s just not adding up. Technically, he is a good player but his end product both in passing and finishing terms, are poor. I spoke of confidence, but he hasn’t shown a great deal since his breakthrough season a couple of years ago.
I’m really glad Aubameyang scored today too. Granit Xhaka’s assist was really good and despite a lot of criticism, I think he is one of only a couple of players that have deserved credit recently. On Aubameyang, a couple of people asked me already if they think he’s value for money- it’s ridiculous to appraise him in this country yet. All I know is he was wonderful for Dortmund and I’m sure he will score a lot of goals for us in the coming months/ seasons.
We did hit the post from Duffy’s backwards header, but The second half wasn’t much better from our perspective, but we did have a few chances to level it up. Matthew Ryan made good saves from Ozil, Mkhitaryan and then Aubameyang late on. We paid for mistakes and Brighton preserved their lead brilliantly.
We’ve got Milan on Thursday- and it’s going to be a big one.