A frustrated Mikel Arteta has apologized to Arsenal supporters after a crushing 3-0 defeat at home to Brighton ended their hopes of winning the Premier League title.
Second-half goals from Julio Enciso, Deniz Undav and Pervis Estupinan gave the Seagulls a deserved win at the Emirates, meaning Manchester City need one more win in their last three games to defend their crown.
City could be champions on Saturday night if Arsenal lose at Nottingham Forest with a four-point difference between the top two, and Pep Guardiola’s side have a game to go over the Gunners, who have failed to win five of their last seven games.
“A really different feeling to the feeling we all had last Sunday (at Newcastle) when we felt proud and felt that we really did what we needed to do to win at certain times. Today it is the opposite”, admitted Arteta.
“We have to apologize to our people, especially for the second half.
“What I have to accept first is what happened in the second half and digest it.
“After that until I finish mathematically… second position is safe. That will not change. We have to digest and that will take a few days.
“At the moment it is just frustration. The feeling that we gave away the game in the second half. We fought a lot to be in the position we are in and today we were at a critical moment to keep hoping and digging for that dream.
“When you have to play right now you can’t do what we did in the second half.
“So we have to look. If a team is capable of doing that when it comes to the biggest stage, there are a lot of things to analyze and think about because that can’t happen.”
Manchester City’s 3-0 win over Everton earlier in the day added to the pressure on Arsenal, but they started strongly despite losing Gabriel Martinelli to an ankle injury after 19 minutes.
Gabriel Jesus tested Jason Steele midway through the first 45 and Leandro Trossard hit the crossbar with a deflected effort before Bukayo Saka hauled in a 14-yard effort late in a stop-and-go half.
Brighton punished Arsenal’s profligacy just after half time when Estupinan followed up his blocked cross with a scraping cross that Enciso headed home for his third goal of the season.
Arteta made a number of substitutions afterwards, but the visitors remained in control and defeated the hosts with Undav able to fire past Aaron Ramsdale in the 86th minute before Estupinan scored a deserved goal with a shot from point-blank range in stoppage time.
A reflective Arteta added: “Obviously what the team has done in the last 10 months is very different from what nobody expected and that generates a lot of expectation as well as enthusiasm, happiness and joy.
“That is something that has to be handled the right way and then we have a responsibility to make sure the team performs and I am responsible for that.
“So, I hate the feeling of letting people down when they expect something. That’s the biggest regret I have today and I have to apologize for that.”
It was a different set of emotions for Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi, who laughed off the comparisons to José Mourinho after he came rolling down the touchline to celebrate Undav’s goal.
However, he insisted that his sixth-placed team had achieved nothing.
“Yes, I am very happy with the performances. I think we deserved to win, but then very happy, very proud because the last five days were very difficult after the defeat on Monday (against Everton),” De Zerbi said.
“We have 58 points and they are not enough to qualify for Europe.
“We have another four games, tough games, Newcastle, Southampton, City and the last game Aston Villa and we have to fight to deserve classification because 58 points are not enough to play on Thursdays of next year.”