Venue: Amex Stadium
Pic courtesy: AFP/Getty Images
They came to the Amex Stadium to bury Arsene Wenger, not to praise him. And when Arsenal trailed 2-0 after 26 minutes, the obituaries were being written.
The fingers drew back from the ‘send’ button as Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang pulled one back and Wenger’s men fought for an equaliser. But they could not conjure it up and Arsenal had lost four games in a row for the first time since October 2002.
Ostersund, Manchester City (twice) and now Brighton surely represent the limit even for the dwindling band of Wenger loyalists. And AC Milan await in the Europa League on Thursday. ‘When’ is surely the word now rather than ‘if’.
For Brighton it was three priceless points and a first victory over a top six team. Lewis Dunk put them ahead after seven minutes with his first goal of the season. Glenn Murray doubled the lead with his 11th but Aubameyang pulled one back two minutes before the interval.Brighton are now unbeaten in seven games in league and FA Cup and optimism had been growing among fans that this would be their day. That was based as much on Arsenal’s seven previous league defeats away from the Emirates Stadium as their three successive losses.
Wenger made three changes, bringing in Jack Wilshere for Aaron Ramsey, Calum Chambers for Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi for Danny Welbeck. The other eight Arsenal starters had all played the full 90-plus minutes of Thursday’s 3-0 mauling by Manchester City, and most would expect to face Milan on Thursday.
Arsenal began confidently, pressing Brighton at every opportunity. Shane Duffy had to execute a well-timed tackle to deny Aubameyang and Mezut Ozil fired a shot just over the bar.
But after seven minutes Brighton were ahead. Ezequiel Schelotto’s run and cross forced a corner on the left and Pascal Gross’s kick was knocked back across goal by a combination of Duffy’s head and Petr Cech’s fists for Dunk to blast home. It was the first goal of the campaign scored by a Brighton defender, although Dunk has had four own goals debited to his name.
It was nearly 2-0 minutes later as Gross sent Cech sprawling to save at his near post, and Dunk headed over after 18 minutes from another corner by Gross. Then Anthony Knockaert caught Iwobi in possession, but was just unable to squeeze his shot past Cech.
And it was 2-0 after 26 minutes as Arsenal gave away the simplest of goals. Laurent Koscielny gave the ball away to Davy Propper and when Gross crossed from the right, Murray jumped between Shkodran Mustafi and Chambers to head under Cech and in. This was not Arsenal being undone by superior skill or speed but failing a test of basic defending.
“We want Wenger out” was soon being chanted by the visiting fans, who had never seen their team 2-0 down to Brighton in a league game. Wilshere hacked down Knockaert, perhaps lucky to see only a yellow card.
But Arsenal halved the arrears two minutes before the break when Aubameyang flicked home a diagonal pass from Granit Xhaka. And they would have been level if Koscielny’s header had not come back off a post.
Brighton’s confidence ebbed and Maty Ryan dived to his right to palm away a fierce drive from Ozil after 57 minutes as Arsenal began to overrun Brighton’s midfield. But Arsenal were lucky to keep 11 men on the field when Sead Kolasinac, already booked, barged dangerously into Schelotto.
Urged forward by Wilshere, Arsenal dominated possession but could not force a second goal, Ryan saving late on from Aubameyang.
It is now the 8th defeat for the Gunners in all competitions just in this calendar year. The roadway for Wenger seems to get darker and darker as they don’t have FA cup to show at the end of the season. A top four finish in the Premier League can only happen if Liverpool, Man United, Chelsea and Spurs suddenly gets cursed and Arsenal gets all the blessing (What a miraculous phenomenon that will be). The only legitimate way to secure Champions League spot for next season is by lifting the Europa League, just what Man United did last season. But a formidable opponent like Milan waits for them in the coming days, and based on the current run that Arsenal are going through, it indeed is very very bleak for them to outplay the former champion of Europe.