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Arsenal Demonstrated a Real Crucial Skill: Taking It All in Stride

Arsenal demonstrated a real crucial skill versus Brighton and one that makes the rest of the season feel even more promising: adaptability.

As Gabriel Martinelli ran onto a picture-perfect ball played by Martin Ødegaard, and collected the delectably weighted ball right in stride for Arsenal’s fourth goal in their win over Brighton, every Gooner around the world could be heard gasping at the spectacular piece of play from their team captain. The one-touch nature of Ødegaard’s pass, the spin placed on the ball to simultaneously curve into Martinelli’s path and die on his foot, and the ease in which it looked like both players executed the goal of the match, all made for an awe-inspiring dagger in the hopes of a Brighton team gaining a bit of steam.

However, Martinelli’s literal collection of the pass in stride was not the most impressive bit of flawlessly unfazed play that evening. As I reflected on Arsenal’s performance at both halftime and full time, that idea of “taking it all in stride” or coping with change and adversity stood out to me so clearly.

Over the course of this incredible impressive first half to a season — and really since Arteta was appointed — we have been exposed to the building of this team’s identity. Many of these pillars we now associate as commonplace for an “Arteta’s Arsenal” style of play: possession-based play, building from the back, territorial dominance, defense through ball possession, etc. etc. I am almost certain you could probably rattle off more than a few more.

Many of the most important pillars within that identity are what Arsenal do with the ball, and just how much of the ball Arsenal have — 57.1% on average this season to be exact. But there is arguably only one team in the league that can guarantee on almost any given day, they will be allowed to play exactly how they want, and sadly it isn’t Arsenal.

Which makes it so important to see this Arsenal side able to walk into an away ground, come face to face with a match script that’s unusual for them, and take the whole thing in stride with such grace.

Versus Brighton, Arsenal only had 32% of the possession, 25% less than their normal share. Brighton were holding onto the ball, denying easy opportunities to retain possession and set up from the back, and Arsenal were forced to play in a very different fashion.

Instead, Arsenal became a team that was content to cede the ball to Brighton, they created a diligent mid-block — versus the low block many inferior sides in the Premier League resort to — and looked to their front six to block passing lanes in behind a still relatively high line, create traps, squeeze Brighton’s midfield, and transition quickly from defense into attack. It fair to say, they did this quite well. In fact, for almost 70 minutes of the match, this change looked almost comfortable for them out there. As if they had played this way all along.

A nice bit of counter pressing and quick transition opened Arsenal’s scoring 2 minutes into the match and Ødegaard’s full-field ball for Martinelli capped it off.

This matchup with Brighton may have been the least amount of the ball that Arsenal have seen all season, but one of nine matches in which Arsenal have had less than their usual 57% of the ball. If we narrow it down to matches in which Arsenal have had 50% or less of the ball, there have been five… and Arsenal have won all of them, including a 3-2 win over Liverpool.

Coming into the match, there were likely more than a few fans nervously considering this match a tricky one. Brighton are more than capable of playing great football and certainly felt like a potential trap Arsenal needed to navigate itself around. Add in the layer of being forced to play a very different type of match than fans are used to seeing and players are used to playing and it makes the win all the more impressive and promising.

The fact is, Arsenal are set to face an onslaught of matches in this condensed second half of the season, and they, sadly, are not yet a team that can guarantee they will get to play with 55+% of the ball as they would like. Demonstrating an ability to take Brighton’s pressure in stride, change how they play, and win with four goals to the good? Well, that’s a promising thing to see.

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, every Arsenal fan will be eying up the two remaining fixtures against Manchester City, and eyeing up difficult away matches against the likes of Spurs, Liverpool, and Chelsea as matches that could prove difficult. There is far from a guarantee that this Arsenal side will be able to dominate possession their way in those games. But after this weekend, Arsenal fans should take an extra dose of confidence knowing this side is able to break down a quality opponent even if they are forced to play in more of a mid-block and transition fashion.

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