Arsenal will take a seven-point Premier League lead into 2023 after a 4-2 victory at Brighton.
The Gunners took barely a minute to take the lead when Gabriel Martinelli’s deflected shot fell into the path of Bukayo Saka who provided his now customary precise first touch and cool finish.
This advantage was doubled, a little fortuitously when, after a corner was half-cleared, Martin Odegaard’s shot into the ground bounced into the top corner.
The lead was three early in the second half when Martinelli’s shot from a tight angle was parried by Robert Sanchez into the path of Eddie Nketiah who made no mistake from close range.
Brighton pulled a goal back from a smart finish from Kaoru Mitoma but a wonderful forty-yard through-ball from Odegaard put Martinelli through to restore the three-goal advantage.
The hosts kept battling though and pulled a goal back through Evan Ferguson’s first goal for the club and had another from Mitoma disallowed for offside after a VAR chack.
Draws from Manchester City and Newcastle earlier in the day gave Arsenal the opportunity to extend their advantage at the top of the table.
Who would bet against Arsenal now? Manchester City remain slight favourites with the bookmakers and Arsenal face a very tough January with Newcastle, Tottenham away and Manchester United but it is hard not to have faith in Mikel Arteta’s side at the moment. Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka play with abandon on either flank which few defences have the wherewithal to withstand the structure behind the ball with Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey in front of the back four means the vulnerabilities of the last decade mostly seem a distant memory (though Brighton’s tenacity had them rocking a little in the final stages here). And while they will surely bring in another forward in January, Eddie Nketiah seems the perfect ‘fox in the box’ Arsene Wenger thought he was getting with Francis Jeffers two decades ago. Then there is their skipper…
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Martin Odegaard (Arsenal) – It seems very unlikely Erling Haaland will not win the Player of the Year awards with him likely to break Premier League scoring records by May. That said, there should be no complaints at present if his compatriot is ahead of him at this stage. He appears a very modern-day captain, without the screaming at team-mates of old or leading with his physicality. It is a different type of bravery he shows, to always look for the ball, never shy away from defensive work and continue playing with the flair and joy no matter the situation. As for his assist for the fourth goal, it will only be Gunners fans old enough to have seen Liam Brady to have witnessed such an exquisite left-footed pass.
Brighton: Robert Sanchez 6; Lamptey 6, Dunk 7, Colwill 6, Estupinan 6; Gilmour 6, Gross 7; March 6, Lallana 6, Mitoma 7; Trossard 6.
Subs: Sarmiento 6, Ferguson 7, Enciso 6.
Arsenal: Ramsdale 7; White 6, Saliba 6, Gabriel 6, Zinchenko 6; Partey 6, Xhaka 6, Odegaard 8*; Saka 7, Martinelli 7; Nketiah 7.
Subs: Tomiyasu 6, Tiernay 6, Elneny 6, Holding 6.
2′ GOAL FOR ARSENAL! With just over a minute on the clock Arsenal are in front. Martinelli’s effort was deflected into the path of Saka – and as always his first touch was perfect and his finish was cool.
39′ GOAL FOR ARSENAL! The captain delivers again. Saka’s corner is cleared to the edge of the box and Odegaard shoots, inadvertently, against the floor and it then bounces into the top corner.
47′ GOAL FOR ARSENAL! Martinelli went around Lamptey and fired a shot at goal which Sanchez parries and Nketiah is on the spot to poke home.
65′ GOAL FOR BRIGHTON! Gross plays a delicate through ball for Mitoma and the Japanese forward finishes coolly.
70′ GOAL FOR ARSENAL! At one end Sarmiento put in a dangerous ball across the box but then Arsenal broke with a wonderful ball from Odegaard perfectly into the path of Martinelli and his toe-poke squeezed through Sanchez.
77′ GOAL FOR BRIGHTON! A first goal for Ferguson. It came after poor defending from Saliba failed to deal with a regulation long ball over the tap, only kneeing the ball towards his own goal into the path of the 18-year-old who put the ball under Ramsdale and into the net.
89′ GOAL FOR BRIGHTON! Mitoma with another goal. And another fine finish from the Japanese striker. The ball bounced into his path on the edge of the box and he darted past Saliba before striking low inside the far post, with the help of a slight deflection off Holding.
90′ GOAL DISALLOWED! The goal is disallowed for offside, Mitoma coming back from an offside position before scoring.