Player ratings as Gunners go seven points clear

From the AMEX – Arsenal staved off a second-half comeback from Brighton to edge a New Year’s Eve classic and go seven points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table.

Bukayo Saka pounced barely a minute into proceedings by lifting into the top corner from close range before Martin Odegaard sent the Gunners into the break with a two-goal advantage, converting from a Saka corner.

Eddie Ntekiah had the visitors 3-0 up with a tap in during the 47th minute before Kaoru Mitoma offered Brighton a route back into the game with a calm finish. Gabriel Martinelli shot through Robert Sanchez to go 4-1 up, though substitute Evan Ferguson shrugged off some loose defending to grab another consolation.

Draws for both Manchester City and Newcastle earlier on Saturday gave Arsenal the opportunity to go seven points clear in first and they were straight out of the traps to open the scoring.

Odegaard drove forward unopposed before Tariq Lamptey was caught in possession, resulting in a Martinelli shot which took two deflections to fall at Saka’s feet. The England star made no mistake with his finish inside the six yard box within two minutes.

The visitors’ fast start caught Roberto De Zerbi’s side cold and they nearly doubled their lead with more good work on the left, though this time Sanchez was alive to keep out Zinchenko’s first-time shot.

Brighton did begin to work their way back into the contest, Aaron Ramsdale tipping a scuffed Leandro Trossard shot wide before he again denied the Belgian by palming a drilled effort over the top.

The home side’s continued probing didn’t alter the scoreline and instead it was Arsenal who struck next to extend their advantage. A Saka corner found Odegaard, who fired a half-volley through the swarm of players and past Sanchez to rampant cheers from the away end.

While the Seagulls had looked sharp in their recent 3-1 victory at Southampton, their attackers were blunt on Saturday night with no real goalscoring chance presenting itself before the break.

There was no increase in intensity from Brighton at the start of the second half, allowing Arsenal to walk through for their third. The ball broke for Martinelli on the left and his low drive was only half-stopped by Sanchez, allowing Nketiah to knock it in on the rebound.

Gabriel soon met a corner but saw his volley bounce back off the chest of Sanchez before William Saliba’s follow up went crashing wide, but Arsenal’s intensity dropped to allow Brighton a route back into the game. Pascal Gross played in Mitoma, who stayed onside to curl his shot beyond Ramsdale and into the bottom corner.

Brighton pressed and a loose ball across the Arsenal box just evaded a home player, instead ending up with Odegaard. A wonderful first-time pass unleashed Martinelli, who raced in on goal and tucked in Arsenal’s fourth.

Arteta’s side weren’t completely nerveless, however, and some wobbly defending from Saliba allowed 18-year-old Evan Ferguson to barge through and net his first ever Premier League goal.

Mitoma had another goal disallowed late on and Arsenal saw out the remaining minutes to further strengthen their place in the title race, while Brighton are down in eighth.

GK: Robert Sanchez – 4/10 – Good stop from Zinchenko to stop Arsenal going 2-0 ahead. Would have done better with the goals on another day.

RB: Tariq Lamptey – 5/10 – Caught out early on and Arsenal exploited his absence to open the scoring. Moments of promise but struggled for the main part.

CB: Lewis Dunk – 4/10 – Saw plenty of the ball but was often moving backwards and struggled whenever Arsenal roared forward.

CB: Levi Colwill – 4/10 – Another start for the loanee. Was hesitant when faced by Arsenal’s attackers early on.

LB: Pervis Estupinan – 6/10 – Provided a good outlet on the left and often got past White to cross into the middle.

CM: Billy Gilmour – 5/10 – Big shoes to fill in Caicedo’s absence. Booked for sliding in on Gabriel on the touchline. Decent run led to Mitoma’s strike but looked a little off the required level.

CM: Pascal Gross – 5/10 – Missed a more dynamic presence alongside him to deal with Arsenal’s energetic midfielders. Nice assist for Mitoma

RM: Solly March – 5/10 – Not given as much space to cut in as he was against Southampton.

AM: Adam Lallana – 4/10 – On the fringes for the first half being before hauled off early in the second.

LM: Kaoru Mitoma – 8/10 – Showed excellent pace and direct running when played into space. Got the Seagulls back in contention with a well taken finish. Second goal set up a grandstand finish to no avail.

ST: Leandro Trossard – 5/10 – Couple of half opportunities from range were comfortably dealt with.

Substitutes

Evan Ferguson (60′ for Trossard) – 7/10 – Made a big difference as Brighton threw more balls into the box, Used his strength to muscle Saliba out of the way and score.

Jeremy Sarmiento (60′ for Lallana) – 6/10 – Provided a bit more bite as Brighton chased a result.

Julio Enciso (76′ for March) – 6/10 – Added some late flair to Brighton’s attack.

Manager

Roberto De Zerbi – 4/10 – Missed the energy of a few notable midfield absentees, as well as the pressing and physique of Danny Welbeck up front. Horrible start to the second half ended Brighton’s hopes here.

GK: Aaron Ramsdale – 5/10 – Big and strong when needed during the first but had a few dodgy incident in the second.

RB: Ben White – 7/10 – Smooth operator at right back. Nice in build-up play but also given some grief by Mitoma in defence.

CB: William Saliba – 4/10 – Not at his rock-solid best. Shrugged off by Ferguson a little too easily down the middle.

CB: Gabriel – 6/10 – Booked for time-wasting. A little more convincing than Saliba.

LB: Oleksandr Zinchenko – 7/10 – Got tight with March and won the majority of their battles out wide.

CM: Thomas Partey – 7/10 – Late challenge on Lallana got Partey booked. Recovered the ball well.

CM: Granit Xhaka – 7/10 – Patrolled midfield well without making too many decisive bursts forward.

RM: Bukayo Saka – 8/10 – In space at the back post to convert past Sanchez. Quieter for the rest of the game but set the tone.

AM: Martin Odegaard – 9/10 – Bursting run opened the doors for Arsenal to take the lead. His strike put Arsenal almost out of sight before half time. Made his side’s attack sing with his brilliant orchestration.

LM: Gabriel Martinelli – 8/10 – Played his role in the first goal but might have wanted a bit more success out of his duel with Lamptey. Shot through Sanchez for his side’s fourth.

ST: Eddie Nketiah – 7/10 – Slipped into good spaces to receive possession and was on hand to steer in Arsenal’s third from close range.

Substitutes

Takehiro Tomiyasu (60′ for White) – 5/10 – Given some grief by compatriot Mitoma in the last half hour.

Kieran Tierney (60′ for Zinchenko) – 6/10 – Followed Zinchenko’s lead.

Mohamed Elneny (74′ for Partey) – 5/10 – Arsenal lost some control following Elneny’s introduction.

Rob Holding (87′ for Odegaard) – N/A

Manager

Mikel Arteta – 7/10 – Early goal settled any nerves from the visitors before Odegaard’s second. Should have saw out the second half a little easier but did what was required.

Player of the match – Martin Odegaard