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4 Mar 2018

Arsenal crash at Brighton to pile more pressure on Arsène Wenger

The chant from the Arsenal supporters cut through the south coast air and it laid bare the bitter frustration and the overall sense of helplessness.

“We want Wenger out,” they bellowed. It was the 34th minute, their team was 2-0 down to Chris Hughton’s well-drilled Brighton & Hove Albion and all they could do was conclude that Arsène Wenger’s time was up.

It is a judgment that has been reached by many but when the hardcore travelling fans broadcast it, the impression is somehow stronger, more absolute. It was certainly a dismal first half for Arsenal, even if they rallied at the end of it, and it is true that when they are bad, they are horribly so.

Brighton were good. They punished Arsenal’s defensive slackness, within which the goalkeeper, Petr Cech, was a glaring culprit and they might have had more during a period when Arsenal were gripped by indecision and nervousness. On the back of goals from Lewis Dunk and Glenn Murray, this was a win that reinforced the sense that Hughton and Brighton are staying up – and with a degree of comfort.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang got Arsenal back into it with a close-range finish in the 43rd minute and even then the reaction from the away support was sarcastic. “We’ve scored a goal,” they chorused. Thereafter, Wenger’s team pressed hard on to the front foot but, although they enjoyed the territorial advantage, they failed to create too much of clear-cut note.

Their dreadful away form continues and the statistics also showed that this was a sixth defeat in eight matches in all competitions. Wenger’s suffering knows no bounds.

Arsenal have come to look so vulnerable that one of the questions to cling to them has been when, and not if, they concede. They went behind in the early running and it was a goal that left Wenger shaking his head sadly on the bench.

When Pascal Gross hung a corner up towards the far post, it looked like one for Cech to claim. Except that he got himself boxed in and, rather abruptly, there was Shane Duffy going up for the ball with him and winning it. From Duffy’s header, Dunk stretched to steer home. There had been doubt over the award of the corner, with the last touch possibly coming off José Izquierdo. It did not excuse the subsequent breakdown.

It was the prompt for a period of Brighton pressure when, quite frankly, Arsenal fell apart. It culminated in the hosts’ second goal – which was another horror show for Wenger’s defence – but there were several other heart-stopping moments.

When the Arsenal player in possession looked forward, there were precious few options for him; it was the sign of a team whose confidence was at rock bottom and the errors followed. Alex Iwobi lost the ball when he had nothing on and, in a flash, Gross had supplied Anthony Knockaert and he was denied by a good Cech block. Cech had previously saved from Gross while Brighton threatened further from corners. Dunk sent one free header over the crossbar.

Brighton’s second followed a loose Laurent Koscielny pass out from the back and they worked it quickly to Gross on the right. Shkodran Mustafi allowed Murray far too much space behind him and, when Gross crossed, the striker headed down and in. Cech went down in instalments and the way he allowed the ball to squirm underneath him was soft.

Arsenal’s frustration was summed up when Jack Wilshere, who was back from injury, jumped into a poor tackle on Knockaert in the 40th minute and was booked. It felt as though he wanted to send a message to his team-mates – they had to show some fight.

Almost implausibly, Arsenal might have been level at the interval.

Aubameyang, who had seen an early shot blocked by Duffy, touched home from Granit Xhaka’s pass, after good work by Iwobi. And, on 44 minutes, Koscielny rose to flick a deflected header off the near post from Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s cross.

Wenger had omitted Héctor Bellerín, Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck from his starting line-up with an eye on Thursday’s Europa League tie at Milan but he had to have reasoned that there was enough on the field to get a result.

They were a little better in the second half. Mesut Özil drove at the area and extended Mathew Ryan; Xhaka shouted optimistically for a penalty against Dale Stephens and Aubameyang rounded Ryan but saw the goalkeeper get back. It was nowhere near enough.

Sead Kolasinac escaped a second booking after he cleaned out Ezequiel Schelotto; the Brighton full-back was helped off in obvious distress. But when Aubameyang could not squeeze his shot past Ryan in stoppage time, there would be no escape for Wenger and Arsenal.

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