‘No hope’ – How Arsenal’s title charge came to a brutal end with defeat to Brighton

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta

Some people in the crowd thought the title race was over before this match even started. It is now.

Manchester City’s win earlier in the afternoon left the defending champions needing just two wins to claim the Premier League and it made for a deflated atmosphere here in north London. Now City need only two points!

Victory for Mikel Arteta’s side would have given them a mathematical chance of taking the race to the wire, but they were never really in this match and have now dropped points from five of their last seven matches. Pep Guardiola’s side, meanwhile, have taken a maximum 21 points from the same run of matches. They have been relentless just when Arsenal faltered.

Arteta was as low as he has ever been in his time at Arsenal when he faced the media afterwards. He said: “I’m responsible for what happened today. My job is to get the best out of every single individual that we have. And if we have to take it there (pretends to shoot himself) for 10 and a half months, we have to and they have to. I have tried to do that with my best ability but today obviously I didn’t do it.

“Obviously what the team has done over the last 10 months is very different to what anybody expected and that generates a lot of expectation as well enthusiasm, happiness and joy. That’s something that has to be managed in the right way and after we have the responsibility to make sure the team performs and I am responsible for that.

“So, I hate the feeling of letting people down when they are expecting something. That’s the biggest regret I have today and I have to apologise for that.”

Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard was asked afterwards he felt it was time to concede the title to City. He said: “It feels like that. It is going to be very difficult now we have to be honest. It is tough to take.

“It is not a good feeling at the moment. The way we played, particularly in the second half, I don’t know what happened to be honest. It feels like there is no hope now. I don’t think City are going to do too many mistakes now. We just need to get back on the pitch and end the season in a good way. I think everyone deserves that, especially the fans.”

Brighton coach Roberto De Zerbi, as low as he could be after losing 5-1 at home to Everton on Monday night, was naturally at the other end of the spectrum having overseen his club’s third consecutive win at the Emirates Stadium.

He will now be linked with every big job in the game – including the vacant one at Tottenham and said: “I am focused only on qualifying for Europe with Brighton. I live for my work and I want to dream impossible dreams and my targets are very high.”

De Zerbi showed an inspirational video of basketball star Michael Jordan before kick off and explained in more detail how he approached the match. He added: “I can decide how I can lose, not how I can win and I want to lose playing this style; with this courage to try to command the game and the players are with me in this idea.”

Julio Encisco’s controversial second half strike set up Roberto De Zerbi’s men for a deserved win and takes them up to sixth and closer to almost certain European qualification. Deniz Undav added a classy second late on and Pervis Estupinan an even later third. The scoreline did not flatter them. Brighton’s wide-eyed manager celebrated by running down the touchline like a tribute act to Jose Mourinho but he clearly knows what he is doing in his own right.

Arsenal supporters, and any right-minded neutral, will be wondering if referee Andrew Madley gets many or any more Premier League matches as he looked out of his depth from start to finish – he allowed Gabriel Martinelli to floor Kaoru Mitoma unpunished and then let Moises Caicedo get away with a revenge tackle that put Arsenal’s brilliant Brazilian out of the match after only 20 minutes. That should not, however, detract from the fact the best team won.

Arsenal defender Jakub Kiwior was pinned to the floor in agony after having his ankle trodden on before Encisco turned in Brighton’s 51st minute opener and was receiving treatment for many minutes after VAR allowed the goal to stand. It was debatable, but the young Arsenal defender probably should have ignored the pain to try to stand his ground and clear the danger.

Arsenal were desperately chasing the game in the 86th minute when a defensive error gifted substitute Undav the chance to lob Aaron Ramsdale and further ruin the Arsenal goalkeeper’s birthday.

The stadium was almost empty when, six minutes into time added on at the end, Ramsdale parried a shot into the path of Estupinan to score a remarkable third. What a party in the Spring sunshine for the Brighton fans as they finished the match with rounds of ‘OLE!’

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