Arsenal ran Brighton ragged in the first half before settling to control and kill the game off in the second- but how exactly did the Gunners earn their 4-0 win? Here's a look at the key points of the WSL clash at the People’s Pension Stadium.
Brighton made to rue defensive lapses
Hope Powell clearly didn’t expect her side to have a lot of the ball and out of possession Brighton set up with two banks of four and a low block. The idea of this was to force Arsenal out wide, and it was successful in that Arsenal did attack down the wings (particularly the right- more on that later). Unfortunately, that was as much praise as can be given for that particular idea.
For a start, the plan might have worked better had Brighton not been chasing the game from the fourth minute after Danielle van de Donk’s well taken goal. A long diagonal from Leah Williamson exposed a lapse in concentration from full back Kirsty Barton, and van de Donk took full advantage of the space in behind the defender.
Arsenal were denied space in the middle but Brighton sat so deep it was easy for the Gunners to switch the play and get the ball out wide, with little pressure being applied to them.
More crucially though, Arsenal were more than happy to use the flanks- particularly down the right, where Fliss Gibbons was under siege for much of the first half. Time and time again Arsenal bombed down the right hand side and it was only a matter of time before the second goal came- and when it did, it was no surprise how it was created.
Lia Walti’s cross from the right was pin point into Jill Roord who took one touch before firing home. What did the damage in that instance was the amount of space Roord had- she probably could have taken an extra touch, possibly two, before getting a shot off, and again that points to a lapse in concentration. If Brighton were going to try and set up as a compact side, particularly against the potential champions, they could not afford any of those.
Brighton solid when switched on
Arsenal throughout the first half were excellent, constantly finding space on the right and getting dangerous low crosses in. However, for the first thirty minutes, only one effort on goal had come from this. Megan Walsh in the Brighton goal was forced into a save on eight minutes by Roord after Vivienne Miedema was released down the right, but other than that Walsh either dealt with any crosses herself or her defenders did it for her.
However when the Gunners doubled their lead on 32 minutes, Brighton could not complain that they hadn’t been warned. Arsenal had attacked down the right constantly, creating notable opportunities no less than six times, with Gibbons having a hard time containing the fluid movement of Joe Montemurro’s side.
In the second half Brighton were by and large much more organised and- perhaps aided by Arsenal taking their foot off the gas slightly- Gibbons had a much easier time of it. Unfortunately, that organisation came after conceding the third, and so Powell’s gameplan- whilst solid in theory and eventually in practice- didn’t pay off quite as she hoped.
Seagulls blunt in attack
Another issue for Brighton is that they rarely caused Arsenal problems going forward. Aileen Wheeler was the only real bright spark particularly in the first half- with a fantastic cross that forced Manuela Zinsberger to palm away from the onrushing Kayleigh Green. Then minutes later as the half drew to a close, Whelan was picked out by Dani Bowman and drove forward at the Arsenal defence sliding through Emily Simpkins, who could only fire wide from the angle.
To their credit, the Gunners made it difficult for Brighton to get out of their half thanks to a smart tactical move from Montemurro. The versatile Lia Walti, starting at centre back, would often push up into midfield when Arsenal had the ball, creating an overload in the middle of the pitch and ensuring Brighton were largely penned into their own half. Much like Arsenal targeting the right wing, this was particularly effective and noticeable in the first half.
Overall ,Brighton stuck valiantly to their game plan but were undone by two things- lapses in concentration often caused by relentless Arsenal pressure, and the gulf in quality between the two sets of players that meant Arsenal could capitalise on those mistakes.