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Brighton 0 Arsenal 3: Gunners go top of Prem table & pile pressure on Liverpool

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THIS TIME, Bukayo Saka and Arsenal held their nerve as they returned to the top of the Premier League table.

This time, perhaps they will still be there at the end of the season.

Bukayo Saka scored Arsenal's opener from the spot

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Bukayo Saka scored Arsenal’s opener from the spotCredit: Getty
Kai Havertz netted his tenth of the season

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Kai Havertz netted his tenth of the seasonCredit: Getty
Leandro Trossard was jeered by Brighton fans and scored on his return to the Amex

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Leandro Trossard was jeered by Brighton fans and scored on his return to the AmexCredit: PA

In the Gunners’ 31st game of the last campaign, Saka had the chance to make it 3-1 against West Ham from the penalty spot.

But he fired wide, the Hammers went on to equalise and Mikel Arteta’s side went on to bottle the title.

A year on, Saka and Arsenal are made of sterner stuff.

The young winger calmly converted from 12 yards after Tariq Lamptey’s rash challenge on Gabriel Jesus to put Arsenal on the road to a crucial victory.

And Kai Havertz scored the second goal that underlined another big change.

It was a lack of strength in depth, as well as mental fortitude, that cost the Gunners in last season’s run-in.

When the club agreed to shell out £65million to rescue the mercurial Havertz from Chelsea, eyebrows were raised.

Yet the German who once scored a Champions League-winning goal for the Blues has now found the net five times, and provided three assists, in the last seven Premier League matches.

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In other words, just when it matters most.

And just to rub Brighton’s noses in it, former Seagull star Leandro Trossard added a late third amid his old fans booing him.

I hated playing against Arsenal Invincible, he’d pinch me and stand on my toes, I only spoke to him to abuse him

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There are still seven games to go, but with this quality and quantity of players, and this steely mentality, Arsenal have the look of champions.

A word of caution, however. 

If Manchester City and Liverpool were expecting Brighton to embrace their role of title kingmakers again, they were disappointed.

Roberto De Zerbi’s side faded badly after a bright start and would have lost by more but for goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen.

The Seagulls caused Arsenal far fewer problems than they did Liverpool last weekend at Anfield.

Arteta will hope De Zerbi’s team find those levels again when City come to the Amex later this month.

But the Arsenal boss will feel even more confident that his side do not need help from others after they buried the ghosts of Brighton games and title challenges past.

The edge to this fixture dates back to a match at the Amex shortly after pandemic restrictions were lifted in the summer of 2020.

That afternoon ended with Arsenal’s Matteo Guendouzi grabbing wind-up merchant Neal Maupay by the throat after Maupay had snatched a stoppage-time winner.

The Seagulls then twice choked the life out of the Gunners at crucial times of the season.

A 2-1 win at the Emirates in April 2022 was part of the collapse that prevented qualification for the Champions League.

And De Zerbi oversaw a 3-0 away victory in May last year that was the penultimate nail in the coffin of Arsenal’s title challenge.

The visitors should have settled any nerves after barely a minute. But Gabriel sent a free header wide from Martin Odegaard’s free kick and after goalkeeper David Raya fluffed his first attempted clearance of the evening, the home fans struck up a chorus of “You’ll f**k it up”.

Brighton were a threat for a few minutes,  with Julio Enciso scooping over the bar and Jakub Moder shooting wide.

But De Zerbi soon became the more frustrated and animated manager.

Already annoyed by some of referee John Brooks’ decisions, he was irritated with his team as they gave up three good chances. 

Saka, restored to the team after being rested for the midweek win over Luton, wasted the first. Verbruggen flew to his left to keep out Jesus’s fierce shot, then the Brazilian sent a header badly off target.

Simon Adingra shot high and wide, but Arsenal were on top and soon took the lead.

In the good old days, Lamptey might have received a pat on the back for making faint contact on the ball before taking out Jesus with his follow-through.

In the modern game, it is a foul and a penalty, and Saka shut out any bad memories by sending Verbruggen the wrong way.

Enciso almost revived the deflated crowd with a fine effort that Raya saved superbly with an outstretched top hand.

But after a couple of near things in seven minutes of stoppage time, Brighton were happy to go into the break only one behind.

Jesus should have doubled Arsenal’s lead soon after the interval but could not send a free header on target.

Verbruggen kept his team in it with a sharp stop from Odegaard’s rising rasper.

With only one goal in it, tensions rose. Ex-Seagull Ben White made the most of an off-the-ball clash with Pervis Estupinan and there was all sorts going on off the ball when Brighton earned a corner.

Havertz all but ended the argument. Jorginho played a one-two and cut the ball back for the German to force it in from close range.

Both managers made double changes. Substitute Trossard quickly forced Verbruggen into another good save, then ran through to finish beautifully in the dying minutes.

Verbruggen denied Gabriel late on. But the feeling is growing that no-one will deny Arsenal the title.

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