Brighton and Hove Albion 2
Sometimes a change of manager does the trick, sometimes the players at the disposal of whoever is in charge are simply not up to it.
Brighton were the latest side to leave the Emirates with a win after beating Arsenal 2-1 tonight in the Premier League.
And Freddie Ljungberg has one heck of a job on his hands to reverse this almighty slump, which has now stretched to nine games without a win. Even more ominous for the Gunners is the inability to see where or when that elusive victory may come.
Arsenal have far too many poor players who are out of their depth at such a club. And even their strike force, which has so often rescued them in the past few seasons, now looks disinterested.
It is obvious that David Luiz cannot play in a back four. His instinct to go searching for loose balls and to try to play his way out of defence just cannot be trusted. In a back five others can cover for him. In a back four he is exposed for what he is not.
But it’s not only him. His centre-back partner tonight, Sokratis, is not good enough to play for Arsenal. Not by a distance between London and Athens.
And Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira are not the answers as holding midfielders.
In the first half Arsenal were worse than woeful. Brighton exploited the huge open spaces being left for them in midfield – and even playing with that back four and the two holding in the centre, the Gunners’ shaky back line was exposed once again.
The visitors had a number of chances to score the first goal. First Aaron Connelly cut inside on to his right foot and tested Bernd Leno, then Hector Bellerin was booked for blocking the goal-bound run of Aaron Connelly on the edge of the box – the resulting free-kick fired into the wall by Pascal Gross.
Adam Webster really should have done better for the Seagulls when presented with a free header from a corner, only managing to head straight at Leno. And two minutes later, on 26 minutes, Aaron Mooey’s cross was flicked into the path of Neal Maupay, who flashed a shot across the Gunners’ box, where Connelly was inches away from converting.
Good interplay from Torreira, Joe Willock and Lacazette led to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang flashing a shot wide at the other end in a moment of respite for the Gunners.
But Maupay and then Davy Propper soon brought further saves from Leno as Arsenal continued to allow the visitors to stroll through their midfield, and then the inevitable happened. Brighton scored.
A right wing corner from Pascal Gross was headed back into the middle by Dan Burn. Connelly had a stab, the defence failed to clear and Webster swept the ball home from close range.
Ljungberg made the obvious change at half-time, bringing on £72m man Nicolas Pepe.
Although Pepe has hardly set the world on fire so far this season, what he does is scare defences with his pace.
An injection of that much-needed speed was exactly what the Gunners needed, and that’s just what they got, with Pepe’s introduction making an instant impact, putting the men from the south coast on the back foot.
Five minutes into the second half Arsenal were level. Mesut Ozil’s right wing cross was looped over the Brighton backline and into the far corner by the head of Lacazette. VAR checked that the offside Kolasinac hadn’t got a touch, and the goal stood.
Bellerin then saw a dangerous cross headed away before a centre from the left from Kolasinac was inches away from being turned in by Aubameyang.
Then Arsenal had a goal correctly ruled out for offside against David Luiz when the Brazilian – and the majority of the crowd - thought he had headed the Gunners in front.
Arsenal continued to push. Pepe played in Aubameyang whose shot was blocked for a corner, then the Ivorian saw a goal bound effort also thwarted before Ozil’s shot flew wide.
But for as long as Arsenal are forced to play with their current selection of centre halves, they will struggle badly.
As the second half went on Brighton once again grew more confident, and the terrified Gunners backline was once again put to the sword when Adam Mooey was given far too much time to measure a cross by Bellerin, and Neal Maupay craned his neck to head in.
There were some green shoots of recovery. Pepe’s speed scares defences, but Arsenal need to find a way of playing him in the side while at the same time deploying both Lacazette and Aubameyang in the centre – something they can’t seem to fathom right now. But it’s criminal that Aubameyang is forced to play on the wing so often.
From here Arsenal go to West Ham on Monday night. Their top four hopes are shot and, on their performances of late, they will now be looking behind them. Approaching Christmas, and with a win as far away as ever, the Gunners lie just five points ahead of the relegation places.
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Sokratis, Lacazette, Ozil, Torreira, Aubameyang, Luiz, Willock, Kolasinac, Xhaka
Referee: Graham Scott