How Brighton beat Arsenal & Spurs in a 3-5-1-1

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After a bit of a new year slump, Brighton are back on track, beating the fiercest of North London rivals in successive weeks. Graham Potter’s ability to tweak his shape and personnel has been a hallmark of his time at Brighton, seemingly always finding a way to get the balance right in his team. But the former Swansea manager made several big calls in the past two weeks, handing a debut to Moises Caicedo against Arsenal, and operating without a recognized number nine against Spurs. Despite those big calls, Potter’s men came out on top in back to back weeks against two sides battling it out for a place in this season’s top four, whilst using an intriguing 3-5-1-1 shape.

ARSENAL 1-2 BRIGHTON

Brighton kicked off against Arsenal in an unorthodox 3-5-1-1 formation, utilizing Alexis MacAllister’s space seeking in between the lines, and wing-backs pushing up high in pressing phases. Despite the overload they created in midfield up against Arsenal’s lack of central presence, they often bypassed the midfield through hitting long passes into the wide channels, for the likes of Trossard and Mwepu to chase down. With Bissouma screening and shielding the back three, Enock Mwepu and Moises Caicedo were then given the freedom to find space up ahead. Alexis MacAllister’s desire to drop in between the lines to pick up the ball aided in that approach, with Brighton dominating the half-spaces throughout. As they advanced into attacking areas and Arsenal’s defensive structures collapsed, the Seagulls could then use cut-backs toward the top of the box for a late arrival, before hammering the ball into the back of the net.

In fact, both of Brighton’s goals on the day were created via the use of cut-backs as the outside central midfielders ventured forward down the edge of the eighteen. Trossard hammered in the first from Mwepu’s pass, and Mwepu himself perfectly placed the second into the bottom corner from Caicedo’s cut-back.

Defensively, Brighton’s shape adapted into a 3-2-4-1, with one central midfielder pushing up alongside McAllister and the wing-backs situating themselves high. In doing so, McAllister and the centre-mid screened passes into Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe as they sought space to receive. The Seagulls compacted all areas of the pitch to force Arsenal away from goal, whilst limiting the potential for space in behind the wing-backs as they pushed on. With Albert Sambi Lokonga operating as a single pivot, Arsenal struggled to advance into central areas and play through the thirds, and Caicedo had an easy time tracking Martin Odegaard on his debut.

Late on in the game, the Seagulls transitioned into a 4-5-1 with the addition of Tariq Lamptey into their back-line, but the 3-5-1-1 provided plenty of intrigue throughout the match in helping them claim victory.

tottenham 0-1 BRIGHTON

One week later against Spurs, Brighton set up in the same 3-5-1-1 shape, with slight variations to their pressing structures. They went man for man on Kulusevski, Kane and Son, with each of the three centre-backs sticking to their tasks marvelously well, and the wing-backs limiting wide progression in a back-five. This contrasted the Arsenal approach where the wing-backs situated high up the pitch, as Brighton put more emphasis this time on putting Tottenham’s back-three under pressure and stopping Pierre Emile Hojbjerg from getting on the ball.

Instead of a 3-2-4-1 pressing shape, Brighton’s high-block became a 5-1-3-1, with Pascal Groß situating himself in between Moises Caicedo and Enock Mwepu. Mwepu and Caicedo stepped on the toes of Tottenham’s outside centre-backs as the ball travelled into their path, as McAllister held a distinct role in the first line of pressure. This worked like a charm in stopping Spurs from being able to progress through the thirds, and Tottenham couldn’t hit long passes in behind, knowing Lewis Dunk’s aerial dominance, and Robert Sanchez’s exceptional sweeping abilities in behind. With Bissouma shuffling right to left to break up play from Heung-Min Son’s attempts to drive inside, Brighton could focus their energies on the attacking side of the game and showcase their own quality going forward.

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In attacking phases, Mwepu and Groß then interchanged positions. The German pro held a withdrawn role alongside Yves Bissouma, as Mwepu operated in behind McAllister. Caicedo could then push forward to allow Brighton to overload the left, where they worked the ball between Cucurella and Trossard to generate chances. Their 3-4-2-1 attacking shape eventually paid dividends late on in the match, when Leandro Trossard squeaking through to score his second goal in two games.

So after two hard fought performances and two big wins, Brighton are back inside the top ten where they deserve to be. It will be interesting to see whether or not they continue with their 3-5-1-1 ideologies next week against Manchester City. But at the very least, you can expect some sort of intriguing tactical tweak for the next one, and a player operating in a different position to that of the previous two matches.


So there it is! How Brighton beat Arsenal & Spurs in successive weeks, utilizing an unorthodox 3-5-1-1. Be sure to check out more of our Premier League analyses, Match Analyses, and be sure to follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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