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IN the 32-page report that saw Mikel Arteta cleared of his FA charge on Thursday, he was labelled an “impressive witness”.

Returning to the touchline, he was a witness once more, this time watching his impressive Arsenal side bounce back with a crucial, hard-fought and at times frustrating victory.

Toothless for large parts, Gabriel Jesus arrived with a vital touch in the 53rd minute just when nervy Gunners fans were fearing being on the wrong end of another Brighton masterclass.

Those nerves were eventually put to bed in the 87th minute with a breakaway Kai Havertz special, cementing himself as a new North London favourite.

Hardly a 90 minutes that will silence those who feel this group are still in need of a serial goal-getter if they wish to avenge last season’s heart-breaking title collapse.

But Arteta’s boys are finding ways to win, getting back on track after that narrow loss at Villa Park – one that the Arsenal manager watched from the stands.

Of course, Arteta could not help himself on his dug-out return – receiving a yellow for a trademark strop to the fourth official in the first half, the FA big-wigs watching on no doubt.

You sense there will be plenty more of those as this title race cranks up ahead of a mouth-watering trip to Anfield against nearest rivals Liverpool this weekend.

Arteta named the same starting XI for successive Premier League matches for the first time this season, while Jorginho was left out of the squad with a foot injury.

The gameplan early doors from Brighton to snuff out Arsenal’s big threats was crystal clear, committing at least five players on the right to stop Bukayo Saka and Ben White combining.

Mikel Arteta saw his side bounce back from the Aston Villa defeat last weekend.
Jesus scored with one of his four shots
Jesus scored with one of his four shots
Regardless, Saka was still able to pick his moments, tormenting 37-year-old James Milner at left-back with some darting runs that had the visitors scrambling in the box.

Milner will be having nightmares about Arsenal’s Starboy for days, skinned again as Saka cut inside and tested Bart Verbruggen for the first time with a low, tame shot.

Milner had enough after just 15 minutes, swiping the legs of Saka out of frustration and was lucky not to be cautioned by ref Tim Robinson.

Arsenal were turning up the heat.

Martin Odegaard – on his 25th birthday – whipped one just wide of the post. Gabriel then came close with a header from a Gabriel Martinelli dink.

Roberto De Zerbi remained calm, so often the architect of upsets at this stadium – executing a Premier League and Carabao Cup double at the Emirates last season.

Their stunning 3-0 Prem victory back in April practically ended Arsenal’s title hopes. Arteta admitted pre-match it was a result that brought plenty of “pain”.

Since then however, De Zerbi has lost key figures in Levi Colwill, Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo – and was forced into subbing off a limping Joel Veltman after 26 minutes.

Jack Hinshelwood, 18, replaced him for only his sixth top flight appearance – and was met immediately with a thumping body check by Gabriel Jesus.

All the ball but no end product, the home fans were beginning to get tetchy, especially with Martinelli skimming over the bar after Saka’s cut-back.

Brighton’s sloppy play from the back gifted them another chance, but Odegaard bizarrely decided to pass instead of shoot after Adam Lallana’s slip on the edge of the box.

The onslaught continued heading into half time with little sign of easing up. Alex Zinchenko finding space in the middle and putting Martinelli in, his cross from a tight angle blocked by Verbruggen.

In his own words, he may be “clean” after his drawn-out FA ordeal, but that did not stop Arteta from picking up a customary booking for more touchline remonstrating with Brighton being too physical with Saka for his liking – the Spaniard’s fourth of the campaign.

Saka ended the half as Arsenal started it – wasteful – blazing over inside the box, and that hesitancy carried on after the break.

Brighton, pegged back in their own 18-yard box, saw Verbruggen’s pass out nicked by Declan Rice and onto Saka who fed Odegaard but it was one touch too many yet again.

But, from the resulting corner, the net finally bulged thanks to Arsenal’s No9 showing some much-needed instinctiveness at the back post, nodding in Jan Paul van Hecke’s flick-on.

It is just Jesus’ third Prem strike of the campaign, a weak tally that surely needs to be improved upon in the coming weeks with the title talk beginning to bubble.

Yet concerns over whether he can drag Arsenal to their first league title in 20 years remain, shown moments later as Martinelli’s brilliant ball across goal found a vacant box.

De Zerbi responded in De Zerbi fashion. A triple substitution of Joao Pedro, Igor Julio and Facundo Buonanotte.

Brazilian centre back Igor was tasked with halting Saka on the left, but that is no easy task right now. The England international set Odegaard away after a quick counter only for the Norwegian to smack the side-netting.

Brighton – often known for stifling superior teams and beating them at their own game – were being convincingly outworked and outplayed.

White’s near-post header should have been bundled in by William Saliba but for Lewis Dunk’s superb clearance off the line and over the bar.

These missed chances were coming close to costing Arsenal. Kaoru Mitoma broke free and into the box before going down after a tussle with White – not enough for a penalty.

Odegaard denied by a fingertip stop from Verbruggen and Havertz somehow headed over from six yards.

Surviving a few late scares, Havertz was let loose with grass to burn in the final three minutes and finished with panache – the German’s fourth in his last seven in all competitions.

 

 

 

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