When 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 away from a third successive title, but that’s almost irrelevant because Arsenal have lost all will, as well as this potentially decisive game. A supposedly close title race could well end next weekend with more than two games to go.
It’s almost crueler for Arsenal that one of those games City have left is against this Brighton. With the evidence of this impressive 3-0 win in north London, for almost the entire season, De Zerbi’s side could have offered a real challenge. European football is within your reach. Brighton’s own 5-1 defeat to Everton on Monday now feels almost as delusional as the idea that there ever was a title race.
City have just moved on, against a relatively inexperienced side. That’s not necessarily to criticize Arsenal, given that’s what happens to young teams in such situations for the first time (just look at Tottenham Hotspur in 2015-16), but this was one of those games where the fight was gone, where they had no more to give. The submissive character of the last two goals summed it up.
Aaron Ramsdale has done his best to keep Arsenal in it for so long, but he’ll want to put this day behind him quickly. Brighton got over that collapse against Everton so quickly. This win was all the more impressive for that, as they had all the fight from a manager who celebrated every goal so abrasively. In the last two, he would run down the line and jump onto the field.
How could Arsenal have done it with such energy. Brighton had done a number on them. It was still hard not to think that another game involving Everton played a bigger part in this. City’s previous 3-0 win at Goodison Park seemed to have sapped all of its intensity. There was just this feeling that it was the last chance for a slip up, and the ease of the champion’s victory seemed to drain this chance of his energy, at least from Arsenal’s perspective.
Even in a better first half for Mikel Arteta’s team, it felt more like a late-season dead rubber than a title fight, at least off the pitch. That will gradually affect what happens on him, even if Arteta will of course have made sure to keep his players focused on the job at hand.
Game state awareness will always have that subconscious effect. There’s also the fact that 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 a real bite.
There was advantage in many of the challenges throughout the game. Brighton could fairly say that Gabriel Martinelli started with what would be generously described as a leap towards Kaoru Mitoma, but that spell ended with the Brazilian going off after a crude tackle from Moises Caicedo.
Leandro Trossard replaced Martinelli and clipped the bar with a chance he could have seized as Arsenal still had the best of the first half but lacked that conviction that has defined most of their season.
It would be unfair to both sides to say that motions were being followed, but it would take a lot more to move the dial here. Brighton held their ground and caused trouble at half-time. Mitoma made a great performance by Julio Enciso, but a defensive touch took it away from the Paraguayan. However, it was a warning that Arsenal did not heed.
With the second half much flatter from Arteta, Brighton felt the opportunity. Mitoma started running towards Ben White and frequently passed him. Arsenal were being overrun in midfield. Jorginho, who was setting the pace, had to be replaced by Thomas Partey. The rhythm was precisely the problem.
Brighton were now playing with a lot more. They eventually got around Arsenal down the wing, and the ball was clipped for Enciso to finish. It didn’t help that Jakub Kiwior got injured, but that was almost a symbol of the second half. Arsenal was down. Brighton were on it, sharper on everything.
Ramsdale threw a short back pass, and Pascal Gross went straight, setting up Deniz Undav for a sumptuous lift to seal it. The worst was yet to come. Ramsdale was soft on a save, Pervis Estupinan had the advantage to turn a torrid afternoon for Arsenal into a punishing night.
It shouldn’t define your season. However, he has decided.