Dismal Arsenal lose at Brighton but Wenger insists he can turn things around
Super Seagulls become latest team to beat Arsene Wenger's team
04 March, 2018 — By Richard Osley at the Amex Stadium
FA Premier League
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION 2 (Dunk 7, Murray 27)
ARSENAL 1 (Aubameyang 43)
THE sad thing was how predictable the outcome of Arsenal’s day tripper on the south coast was and, even more so, how familiar the response from Arsene Wenger was afterwards.
Defeated again, Wenger still insisted that he was the right man to bring the Gunners out of their worst malaise since the 1990s.
Why? “Because I’ve done it before.”
Almost at the stroke, he rolled into a follow up sentence with the confession: “I’ve never lost this many games on the trot.”
So. He hasn’t done it before, then. Wenger has been in tight spots for most of the last half decade, maybe more, but an end of season heave has usually salvaged something; an FA Cup or a St Totteringham’s Day party. But he’s never been under the weight of eight defeats since the turn of the year, four of them in a row, and is failing to draw the best or anything like it from his team.
The contrast with the work his opposite number today, Chris Hughton, the gentle but firm Brighton manager, is doing was painfully stark. By bringing the Seagulls up to the Premier League with a direct passing style and holding their own, he has a team of spirited fighters. Arsenal looked like deadbeats in reply.
Within seven minutes of a match in which they were supposed to be restoring some pride after three defeats, one it can’t be forgotten being to Ostersunds, they were behind. Brighton swung in a corner to a penalty box crowded with Arsenal defenders but somehow the home side’s Shane Duffy was able to outmuscle them all and keeper Petr Cech at the back stick. He knocked back into the danger zone and his fellow Brighton centre back Lewis Dunk cracked into the back of the net.
Twenty minutes later, Arsenal were caught playing loose passes and Brighton escaped to feed Glenn Murray for a two-nil lead, the striker scoring a trademark header. But truth, there could have been more. Anthony Knockaert was repelled by Cech’s legs in one of the clearest chances.
Arsenal fans at Brighton
Arsenal woke up for the last two minutes of the half, scoring slightly fortuitously when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang flicked in from close range. Then Laurent Koscielny almost equalised with a header that came back off the post. The second half did not bring the onslaught that Arsenal fans may have expected, however. They slogged away but never looked confident of changing the course of the match, and Wenger’s half time talk had seemingly done nothing to inspire them.
Passes did not find their targets, moves broke down with a lack of ideas. The guilty men particularly included Granit Xhaka and Alex Iwobi but there was a long list.
And the goals could have racked up for Brighton – now tenth – if they had been cleverer on the counter attack. Murray was through a couple of times but did not have the pace to convert the space into goals.
Even when seven minutes of injury time was raised – Brighton’s dazed Ezequiel Schletto had been bruised out of the match by Saed Kolasinac’s beefy shoulder barge earlier in the half – there was only an insipid reaction form the Gunners. By this time, Danny Welbeck was on, running into blind corners, and Mesut Ozil had faded into a face of frustration.
It’s not just the defeats, but the way they are surrounding.
“It is very difficult, nearly impossible now. We are too far behind,” said Wenger, stating the obvious, when asked about Arsenal’s chances of getting into the top four by the end of season. “We have to be realistic. We need two teams to collapse and I don’t see that happening. We have to give our best for as long as we can and the Europa League becomes important.”
The manager added: “Am I still the right man? Yes, because I’ve done it before. I believe a quality of a manager is to try to shorten a crisis. I believe I can do that.”
Then came the bizarre pièce de résistance to his analysis of his players: “The team needs more support at the moment. Tough, objective judgement as well. but when you struggle for confidence it’s difficult. When you have just the trousers on it’s easy to take them trousers off as well. When you’re completely naked you have to find a shirt and try to put it on again and then you’re dressed normally again.”
And with that the Gunners head to AC Milan on Thursday night in the Europa League.
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION: Ryan, Schelotto (Bruno Saltor 69), Bong, Dunk, Duffy, Stephens, Propper, Gross (Kayal 87), Knockaert (March 77), Izquierdo, Murray
Subs not used: Goldson, Krul, Locadio, Ulloa
ARSENAL: Cech, Chambers (Nketiah 83), Kolasinac, Mustafi, Koscielny, Xhaka, Wilshere, Mkhitaryan (Bellerin 83), Ozil, Iwobi (Welbeck 74), Aubameyang
Subs not used: Elneny, Ospina, Holding, Maitland-Niles