By Tim Hodges from the Amex
Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Arsenal 3
The Albion gave a more than spirited performance in front a of record Amex crowd of 27,113.
The Seagulls matched the Gunners in all areas and had chances to go in front early in the match.
New signing Leo Ulloa was preferred up front to Craig Mackail-Smith who dropped to the bench.
Ulloa looked to have already formed a partnership with Ashley Barnes. The big Argentine showed there was much more to his game than simply an aerial threat.
It was Arsenal, however, who took the lead. Tomas Rosicky strode a little too easily through the midfield and found Olivier Giroud, who fired past Casper Ankergren from fully 25 yards into the top corner.
Albion responded immediately when Inigo Calderon saw a speculative shot just clear Wojciech Szczesny’s cross-bar.
Albion sensed they could still get in behind the Arsenal defence. Will Buckley combined well with Calderon down the right and whipped in a cross that was just out of reach for Barnes. It fell to Ulloa who looked to have put Albion level but his close range effort was ruled out for offside.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the son of former Albion player Mark, and Aaron Ramsey created a half chance for Arsenal which Ankergren dealt with well.
Buckley was beginning to cause Abou Diaby a heap of problems with his pace and trickery. The winger won a corner. David Lopez floated it in and Barnes got right in the mix and headed the Albion level.
Buckley was at it again straight from the restart, flying past Andre Santos and around Diaby, but his shot didn’t trouble Szczesny who saved easily.
Arsenal had a brief flurry of corners and pressure before half time but the teams went back to the dressing room all square.
The last Albion player to score against Arsenal, Garry Nelson, looked impressed with the the club’s new surroundings as he enjoyed a half-time coffee.
Kazenga LuaLua replaced Buckley at half time and Gus Poyet had a chance to reshape his defence as captain Gordon Greer had limped off just after Albion’s equaliser and Gary Dicker and Dean Hammond had been sharing defensive duties with Lopez for the last ten minutes of the half.
Arsenal looked more of an attacking unit as the second half began and Albion had to be content with counterattacking whenever the opportunity arose.
A warning shot was fired when Lukas Podolski shaved an upright from a free-kick. Soon after Giroud half volleyed home Diaby’s raking pass to put Arsenal back in front at 1-2.
The Frenchman then had a chance to wrap it up for Arsenal and earn himself a hat-trick but Ankergren blocked his shot.
Almost straight away, Hammond and Wayne Bridge combined down the wing and Barnes, on the edge of the area, crossed in for Ulloa, who scored with a diving header from inside the six-yard to pull Albion level again. The North Stand and in fact most of the Amex went wild and saluted a new hero.
Arsenal weren’t expecting that and their defence was in shock, albeit for a few minutes. Soon after his debut goal Ulloa was replaced by Mackail-Smith and not long after entering the fray he and Barnes both had a stab at putting Albion in front from LuaLua’s cross.
Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere came on for Arsenal as Arsene Wenger paced his technical area with a nervous expression.
Arsenal really dug in as the clock counted down and, with Albion fans dreaming of an evening at the Emirates, Giroud won a corner. As the ball came in from Wilshere, Ankergren came rushing out to meet it but his punch was poor and had no distance. It fell to Walcott who volleyed in back past the Albion keeper and into the net, via Adam El-Abd, with just minutes left.
Just before the end Mackail-Smith had a chance from a header from the edge of the six-yard box but missed under pressure from Laurent Koscielny and had a shout for a penalty that many fans thought referee Michael Oliver had given but he just signalled a goal kick.
In the end the Albion lost but gave a great performance after it needed two current England players to finish them off.