Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Gunners blow top-four race wide open after Seagulls end seven-game winless run in style

WHO wants Champions League football anyway?

Certainly not Arsenal by the look of things after a third defeat in four games left their top four ambitions in tatters.

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Mwepu scored a wonder goal in the second halfCredit: REUTERS
The midfielder also got an assist for Trossard's opener

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The midfielder also got an assist for Trossard’s openerCredit: EPA
Odegaard scored from distance to set up a grandstand finish

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Odegaard scored from distance to set up a grandstand finishCredit: GETTY
Odegaard pulled a goal back for Arsenal

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Odegaard pulled a goal back for ArsenalCredit: REUTERS

And if they can’t get anything from games against Crystal Palace or Brighton, you don‘t fancy their chances in forthcoming fixtures against Chelsea, Manchester United, West Ham and Spurs.

Manager Mikel Arteta has consistently played down talk of Arsenal returning to Europe’s top competition after a six year absence.

And now you can see why after another underwhelming display from a young team which is running out of steam just as the finishing line is looming on the horizon.

Five days after being battered into submission by Palace, they were found wanting again by a Brighton team who had never previously won a Premier League match in April.

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Goals from Leandro Trossard and Enock Mwepu exposed Arsenal’s soft underbelly and a lack of options in the absence of the injured Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey.

For the first 25 minutes absolutely nothing happened as both sets of players strolled around in the spring sunshine seemingly without a care in the world. 

Such was the lack of intensity from Arsenal that it was almost impossible to believe they were supposed to be chasing European qualification.

But then Gabriel headed just wide from Bukayo Saka’s cross and a previously moribund match suddenly sprang into life.

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Having seen their team score just once in their previous seven games, the travelling Brighton fans weren’t exactly holding their breath at the prospect of an Emirates goal-fest.

But no-one was more surprised than manager Graham Potter when his team took a 28th minute lead after Arsenal had completely switched off at the back again.

Lewis Dunk’s long boot out of defence found Mwepu totally alone on the edge of the Arsenal area.

And when the Zambian wing-back rolled the ball across goal, Trossard had even more time and space to pick his spot with a fierce shot into the top corner.

It was the kick up the bum Arsenal needed to wake from their stupor and only a brilliant block by Dunk denied Emile Smith Rowe a quick equaliser.

They thought they were back on level terms in first-half stoppage time when Gabriel Martinelli flicked on Saka’s corner then nodded in from close range when the ball was returned into the danger zone by Gabriel.

But after an absolute eternity waiting for VAR Chris Kavanagh to make up his mind, Martinelli was judged to be offside and his effort was ruled out.

It was all too much for the furious Arsenal fans, who were already at the end of their tether at the prospect of their team messing up again.

And nothing summed up their team’s shortcomings more than Cedric Soares drilling a 47th minute free-kick straight into a team-mate, much to Lacazette’s disgust.

Mind you, the Arsenal captain was in no position to criticise anyone after another goal-free 90 minutes.

It is now four months since the £54milliion striker last scored from open play and there was never any danger of him breaking that duck here.

It would be interesting to take a look at the Frenchman’s heat map because I’m pretty sure the Brighton penalty area would have resembled the Arctic Circle.

In fact the closest he came to a goal all afternoon came when he almost glanced a 60th minute corner into his own net.

Not that Brighton needed any help on that front as they put the result beyond doubt when Mwepu swept home in the 67th minute from Moises Caceido’s pull back.

Martin Odegaard struck the bar with a late free-kick and sub Eddie Nketiah drilled the rebound against the very same patch of woodwork as Arsenal threw in the kitchen sink.

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That pressure was finally rewarded when Odegaard’s long-range effort looped over keeper Robert Sanchez with a deflection off Danny Welbeck in the 89th minute.

But even six minutes of stoppage time could not produce a last-gasp equaliser as Nketiah’s flying header was tipped round by Sanchez and Arsenal’s prospects took another hammer blow.

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