Title race over: Arsenal’s season ends with painful submission
As Roberto De Zerbi blew mocking kisses at someone in the crowd, with them goes the 2022-23 Premier League. Manchester City are now just one win from a third successive title but that is almost immaterial because Arsenal have lost all will, as well as this potentially decisive game. A supposedly tight title race could well end next weekend with more than two games to play.
It is almost extra cruel on Arsenal that one of those remaining games for City is against this Brighton. On the evidence of this impressive 3-0 victory in north London, to go with almost the entire season, De Zerbi’s side could have offered a real challenge. European football is within their grasp. Brighton’s own 5-1 defeat to Everton on Monday now feels almost as illusory as the idea there was ever a title race at all.
City have just powered on through, against a relatively callow side. That is not necessarily to criticise Arsenal given that is what happens to young teams in such situations for the first time - you only have to look at Tottenham Hotspur in 2015-16 - but this was one of those games where the fight had gone, where they had no more to give. The submissive nature of the last two goals summed it up.
Aaron Ramsdale has done as much as anyone to keep Arsenal in it for this long, but he will want to forget this day quickly.
Brighton themselves so quickly got over that collapse against Everton. This win was all the more impressive for that, as they had all the fight of a manager who so abrasively celebrated every goal. For the last two, he was running down the line and leaping onto the pitch.
How Arsenal could have done with such energy by then. Brighton had done a number on them.
It was still hard not to think another match involving Everton influenced this more. City’s earlier 3-0 win at Goodison Park felt like it sapped this of all intensity. There was just that sense it was the last chance for a slip, and the ease of the champions’ win seemed to sap this occasion of its energy - at least from Arsenal’s perspective. Even in a better first half for Mikel Arteta’s side, it had the feel of an end-of-season dead rubber more than one from a title run-in, at least off the pitch. That will gradually affect what happens on it, even if Arteta will of course have been sure to make his players stay focused on the job at hand.
The awareness of the state of play will always have that subconscious effect.
There’s also the fact this was never going to be an easy game. There was no way De Zerbi was going to let Brighton be as porous as they were against Everton, a match that now looks even more like it was the most unlikely of the season. There was a response here, and real bite.
There was edge to a lot of the challenges throughout the game. Brighton might fairly say that Gabriel Martinelli started it with what would generously be described as a leap into Kaoru Mitoma, but that spell ended with the Brazilian going off after a raw tackle from Moises Caicedo.
Leandro Trossard came on for Martinelli and did clip the bar with an opportunity he might have scored from, as Arsenal still had the better of the first half, but it was lacking that conviction that has defined most of their season.
It would be unfair on both sides to say it was going through the motions, but it was going to take so much more to move the dial here. Brighton were standing up strong, and causing problems on the break.
Mitoma did superbly to set up Julio Enciso, but a defensive touch just took it away from the Paraguayan. It was nevertheless a warning Arsenal didn’t heed.
With the second half so much flatter from Arteta’s side, Brighton sensed opportunity. Mitoma began to run at Ben White and frequently got past him. Arsenal were getting overrun in midfield. Pace-setting Jorginho had to be brought off for Thomas Partey. Pace was precisely the problem.
Brighton were now playing with so much more of it. They eventually got around Arsenal on the flank, and the ball was clipped in for Enciso to finish.
It didn’t help that Jakub Kiwior went down with an injury as it happened, but that was almost symbolic of the second half. Arsenal were down. Brighton were on it, sharper to everything.
Ramsdale played one short back pass out, and Pascal Gross was straight on it, setting up Deniz Undav for a sumptuous lift to seal it.
Worse was still to come. Ramsdale was soft on one save, Purvis Estupinan had the hard edge to turn a torrid afternoon for Arsenal into a chastening evening.
It shouldn’t define their season. It has, however, decided it.