Brighton and Hove Albion 2-1 Arsenal – Hungry Seagulls feast on Arsene Wenger’s sorry prey
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Brighton and Hove Albion beat Arsenal 2-1 at a raucous Amex Stadium deep in Sussex’s normally sleepy South Downs.
First half goals from Albion captain Lewis Dunk and Glenn Murray deservedly put the Seagulls 2-0 ahead before record signing Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang pulled one back with his first away goal for the club.
Such was the frenzied atmosphere in this ground in Falmer the visiting team could have been forgiven for thinking they were already at the San Siro for their fast-approaching Europa League date with Serie A giants AC Milan on Thursday.
Yet the noise levels generated by the crowd of 30,620 in attendance were less to do with shock and more do with exultation that the side manager Chris Hughton is quietly assembling on the south coast could be one of the best in the club’s entire history.
The spine of the team, from former Valencia keeper Mathew Ryan – who has more than recovered from being Gary Neville’s netminder during the former Manchester United right-back disastrous spell at the La Liga side, including being on duty during the infamous 7-0 rout at Barcelona – through to the excellent Dunk in central defence and the tenacity of Anthony Knockaert and guile of veteran Murray points to a side that deserves to be sitting prettily in tenth.
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If you add the skill and cunning of Jose Izquierdo and Ezequiel Schelotto you have a team which is deservedly thriving in such exalted company.
After all it shouldn’t be forgotten the Seagulls ended on 93 points in the Championship, one behind eventual champions Newcastle – and 12 ahead of Huddersfield Town, who have gained far more headlines this season but sit five places and four points behind.
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Hughton’s side were certainly too good for Wenger’s sorry side – who suffered their fourth defeat in a row.
With Arsenal a massive 30 points off champions elect Manchester City after a blue week, and more importantly 13 points off Spurs in fourth place you could be forgiven for thinking boss Arsene Wenger would be prioritising the Europa League as the prime route back into the promised land of the Champions League.
Wenger relegated Hector Bellerin to the bench as Calum Chambers took his place while Jack Wilshere returned to take Aaron Ramsey’s place but it was a strong line-up considering the growing importance of the Milan match later this week.
This was reflected in both big-name signings, Aubameyang and Henrik Mkhitaryan also making the starting XI. Young starlet Eddie Nketiah remained as a substitute while Brighton were unchanged after their 4-1 victory over West Ham last weekend.
Dunk put the Seagulls ahead – to no-one’s great surprise – after he found himself in space in the six-yard box – to no-one’s surprise.
Shane Duffy put pressure on Petr Cech following a corner and the ball fell to the home side’s highly-rated captain Dunk – who slotted home from close range.
It was no surprise to the long-suffering travelling supporters it was the first goal Albion have scored from a corner this season.
Yet it wasn’t luck – or a piece of particularly impressive skill for that matter, although no doubt Hughton had instructed his men to target the visitors wobbly backline – it was the fact Arsenal under Wenger in the dying days of his reign simply cannot defend.
More proof – if any further evidence was required – of the failure to conduct the most basic of football strategy in a competent manner was given on 26 minutes when that old warhorse Glenn Murray made it 2-0.
After a cross into the box, former Crystal Palace forward Murray – sandwiched between two defenders – headed home to send the Amex into raptures.
Such was Arsenal’s disarray at this point the entire long-suffering Gunners support launched into a chorus of ‘We want Wenger out’.
When such loyalists decide enough is enough then such a message should be conveyed straight to the top of the club – namely ‘silent’ Stan Kroenke – for such a malaise cannot be allowed to continue.
Of course, Arsenal being Arsenal, the under-fire team attempted to get back into the game, with Aubameyang netting after nonchalantly guiding the ball home two minutes before the break.
The scores were so nearly levelled moments before half-time after captain Laurent Koscielny headed against Ryan’s right hand post.
But as referee Stuart Attwell blew for the interval you felt the sorry charade of the last days of Wenger’s managerial reign should really be ended sooner rather than later.
Because such displays harm not only his legacy – but more importantly harm the chances of his successor taking over a stable club.
The visitors started the second half brightly – of course they did – but the fact remained possession without penetration is mere self-indulgence.
Aubameyang had a late chance which Ryan safely gathered and that was that as Wenger again bemoaned his luck afterwards, which also included a bizarre analogy about trousers, shirts and nakedness.
With Milan to come at the mighty San Siro on Thursday no doubt he will do so again until someone puts him – and every Arsenal supporter – out of their misery by terminating his contract with the club.