The Gunners were desperate for a win in what was their best hope of Champions League football next season but were held at home by Brighton who capitalised on a horrific mistake by Granit Xhaka.
It’s no secret that Arsenal’s away form has been less than impressive this season, but luckily for the Gunners their last opportunity for Champions League qualification from league play would occur at the Emirates. The home side was aware of the task before them, and they started brilliantly with Henrikh Mkhitaryan hitting the post within the first two minutes of the match.
More pressure from Unai Emery’s side would see Nacho Monreal rush into the box only to be clipped by Alireza Jahanbakhsh. With Anthony Taylor’s clear view of the clumsy challenge, a penalty was awarded to the Gunners. Arsenal’s top scorer, Aubamayeng, would have no problem slotting the ball past Mat Ryan giving his side an early lead.
Brighton could do little to stop Arsenal, and the home side continued pushing forwards in an effort to find a second goal which would give them a degree of security. Yet, it was not to be. Mat Ryan was absolutely terrific in goal and denied Aubameyang several times in what were absolutely brilliant saves.
Brighton would make Arsenal pay for not capitalising on their opportunities after an absolutely dreadful mistake by Granit Xhaka. The Swiss international clipped Solly March who was racing after a ball that was likely going out for a goal kick.
It was a dreadful error that would cost Arsenal the match, and the penalty taker, Glenn Murray, was never in doubt when he stepped up for the penalty. Arsenal would attempt to make amends for their mistake late in the second half, but again, their subpar finishing would doom them to a draw.
The end of the match saw two different stories taking place. One team happy for a draw after escaping relegation, and another sulking in the wake of their failure. Arsenal did not do enough to secure a top-four finish, and with the state of the squad coupled with their form, it’s certainly no surprise.
A close shave for Brighton
Hughton has Neil Warnock to thank in part for Brighton’s escape from relegation. With Cardiff losing to Crystal Palace, safety was all but guaranteed for the Seagulls. Yet, Brighton have to also be credited for their performances in the last few matches. Of course, they played a risky game that relied on shutting out opposition, but they did enough.
It was always going to be risky for Brighton, and frankly, it must be relieving for fans to see their team survive after so many doubts surrounding the state of the squad. Their performance against Arsenal, although neither captivating nor impressive, suggests that the Seagulls are on the road to recovery. The side which was so apathetic earlier in the year seems to be disappearing.
Of course, this result along with the escape from relegation does not mean that Brighton are cured of all their ailments, but it does mean that the team is moving forward after having taken a couple of steps backwards. Hughton, in particular, will have to examine the team in the summer to ensure that the collapse seen earlier in the year does not occur again next season or else their luck may run out next season.
A fall from grace for the Gunners
Just a few years ago Manchester United and Arsenal were battling in a Champions League semi-final, now the former is unable to beat an already relegated Huddersfield and the latter cannot secure a top-four finish despite all the chances presented.
Of course, the club is technically still rebuilding after Arsene Wenger’s exit, but to be absolutely candid, this season has been a mediocre one for Arsenal.
The squad is full of older players or players that shouldn’t even be in the squad due to their lack of quality, important players like Ozil or Aaron Ramsey are leaving or unmotivated, and lastly fans are split on the state of the time and the best direction for the club moving forward.
The draw at home that condemned them to another year of Europa League, lest they win this year’s edition, summed up the Gunner’s season. With the goal in sight, quite literally, Arsenal were unable to capitalise. What’s more is the fact that the goal was 4th place.
Arsenal were once a club that was challenging for the title on a regular basis, but it seems that priorities and the definition of success has changed in recent years.
Needless to say, there will have to be a plethora of changes this summer if Arsenal want to remain competitive next season. That is to say, players will have to leave, new players will have to bought and some sort of tangible goal will have to be set for the team. The Gunners have changed, and unlike their London rivals, they have not changed for the better.
Brighton must build from the back
The summer is an exciting time for most teams as it allows for reflection and rebuilding. Brighton have this opportunity and will have the chance to see what went so wrong for them this past season. Of course, they will also have the opportunity to see what went right.
Of the positives, it must be said that Shane Duffy, Lewis Dunk, and Mat Ryan are the absolute foundation of this team. Hughton may try to restructure his team for next season, and if he does he must think of these three players as the start to anything he creates.
Duffy and Dunk although not as technically able as some of the Premier League’s great centrebacks are extremely able and have an almost telepathic understanding with each other.
Without Mat Ryan, it is almost certain Cardiff would have remained in the Premier League while Brighton returned to the Championship. The Australian once again showed his worth in this match, and he also has to be an integral part of whatever Hughton decides for next season.
With new competition coming up from the Championship it is crucial Brighton’s key players remain in form while also leading the team. Frankly, it would benefit Brighton to see some new faces in the team, but the faces of Dunk, Duffy, and Ryan are ones that do not need replacing.
Plan B for Arsenal
Fans across the world mourned Arsenal’s draw until they remembered the possibility of winning Europa League. The competition so many English teams dread may now be the Gunners only hope for Champions League football next season.
In a post-match interview, Emery labelled the competition as his team’s focus, and the three-time winner of the competition likely feels confident of his team’s chances to lift the trophy.
A midweek meeting with Valencia in Spain will not be an easy task for Arsenal, but with the team’s 3-1 lead, the Gunners hold a clear advantage.
Once again, their fate lies in their own hands. A frightening prospect considering the team’s recent form, but it must be said, that now Arsenal will pour their all into this competition as they have no other option for Champions League qualification.