Arsenal top-four hopes hit as Brighton finally end winless streak
Arsenal’s top-four hopes took their second big hit of the week as Brighton held on during a dramatic finish to end a seven-game winless run with a deserved 2-1 victory at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
The Gunners were way below the required standard during Monday night’s 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace but there was no positive response five days on as Leandro Trossard (28) punished another tame opening spell from Mikel Arteta’s side.
Gabriel Martinelli had a header on the stroke of half-time scrubbed off when VAR eventually judged him to be offside in an extremely tight call but Enock Mwepu converted a fine half-volley (67) to put Brighton in control.
Brighton’s travelling support were bouncing in their corner of the Emirates after that – they’d only seen their side score once during their wait for a win – but their nerves were plain to see during a frantic finale after Martin Odegaard’s deflected long-range hit (89) led to Arsenal finally upping the intensity in search of a last-gasp equaliser.
Robert Sanchez pulled off a sharp stop from Eddie Nketiah deep into injury-time to ensure there was no comeback, though, and Brighton move up to 11th after another frustrating outing for Arsenal followers. They’ve missed the chance to move fourth twice this week and it’s now three defeats in four in the league.
North London rivals Tottenham – who are level on points but sitting in the Champions League qualifying spots on goal difference – will try to capitalise at Aston Villa on Saturday Night Football on Sky Sports.
The derby between those sides, now scheduled for May 12 could well be decisive in the race for a place in Europe’s top club competition next season – but with Arsenal again open at the back and disjointed in attack they could well be out of the picture by then anyway.
Arsenal: Ramsdale (6), Soares (6), White (6), Gabriel (6), Xhaka (6), Lokonga (7), Smith Rowe (6), Odegaard (7), Martinelli (6), Saka (6), Lacazette (5).
Subs: Nketiah (7), Pepe (5)
Brighton:Sanchez (7), Veltman (6), Dunk (7), Cucurella (6), Gross (6), Mwepu (8), Bissouma (7), Caicedo (7), Trossard (6), Mac Allister (6), Welbeck (6).
Subs: Lallana (6), Lamptey (6), Webster (6)
Man of the match: Enock Mwepu
Arteta had called on his team to bounce back after an awful first half led to a bad defeat at Selhurst Park but his men were slow out of the blocks again. Brighton may not have hounded them in the same way as Patrick Vieira’s side but there were groans from the home support as passes missed targets.
Set pieces have been Arsenal’s most likely route to goal of late and Gabriel Magalhaes headed narrowly wide on 26 minutes – but his team fell behind inside the half-hour mark once again soon after.
Xhaka’s selection at left-back ahead of Nuno Tavares was a big talking point before kick-off and the midfield regular was absent when Mwepu darted down that channel before pulling back for Trossard to slam in his fifth of the season.
- Arsenal made two changes, with the injured Thomas Partey replaced by Albert Sambi Lokonga and out-of-form Nuno Tavares benched, with Granit Xhaka going to left-back and Gabriel Martinelli coming into attack.
- Yves Bissouma, Enock Mwepu and Moises Caicedo came into the Brighton team. Neal Maupay, Tariq Lamptey and Solly March dropped to the bench. Fit-again Adam Webster was also among the subs.
There was controversy just before half-time when Martinelli thought he’d pulled one back from another set-piece – but after a VAR check lasting five minutes, he was eventually judged to be narrowly offside from Gabriel’s nod back across goal.
A scrappy start to the second half saw Bukayo Saka booked for diving and Moises Caicedo shown a yellow for chopping down Odegaard but Arsenal, for the first time in the match, began to build some sustained attacks, with Saka lashing over from the edge of the box after a corner.
However, just as the hosts were putting the squeeze on, Brighton hit a super second, with Mwepu – like Trossard in the first half, picked out in space on the edge of the box – brilliantly steering Caicedo’s cut-back into the bottom corner.
It fell very flat at the Emirates at that point and it wasn’t until Albert Sambi Lokonga swerved one narrowly wide on 86 minutes that Arsenal really threatened.
That seemed to inspire his team-mates and Arsenal hit the bar twice in quick succession, first from Odegaard’s free-kick and then from Nketiah’s follow-up, before Odegaard’s effort looped off former Gunner Danny Welbeck and into the net.
Arsenal surged forwards in search of one more but after Lokonga and Saka shot straight at Sanchez the goalkeeper’s super stop from Nketiah sealed the victory for the visitors.
More to follow…
April 16 – Southampton (a)
April 20 – Chelsea (a), live on Sky Sports
April 23 – Man Utd (h)
May 1 – West Ham (a), live on Sky Sports
May 8 – Leeds (h), live on Sky Sports
May 12 – Tottenham (a), live on Sky Sports
May 16 – Newcastle (a), live on Sky Sports
May 22 – Everton (h)
What’s next for Brighton?
Brighton return to Premier League action next Saturday at Tottenham; kick-off 12.30pm. The Seagulls visit Manchester City just four days later on Wednesday April 20 at the Etihad Stadium.