Pepe double proves in vain as Arsenal miss out on Europe

Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe celebrates scoring their first goal against Brighton at the Emirates Stadium

Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe celebrates scoring their first goal against Brighton at the Emirates Stadium - Credit: PA

A Nicolas Pépé brace secured a 2-0 victory for Arsenal over Brighton & Hove Albion in front of 10,000 home fans on the final day of the Premier League season. 

But the Gunners failed to qualify for the Europa Conference League at the end of a disappointing season as two late Gareth Bale goals helped Tottenham complete a comeback win at Leicester City. 

It was a special occasion with fans returning to the Emirates for the first time since December 3, and the first time all season, but much of the build-up was dominated by protests against Arsenal’s ownership.

Josh Kroenke, of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, was in attendance alongside Arsenal’s chief executive Vinai Venkatesham.  

The influence of the fans was evident early on with Martin Ødegaard, Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka all obliging to calls for them to shoot from outside the box during the afirst five minutes.

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Ødegaard was the driving force of Arsenal’s attacks during the first half, highlighted by his cross from the right which Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang headed just wide under pressure from Webster 23 minutes in.

The best opportunity of the half fell to Arsenal from a corner on 31 minutes.

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Ødegaard’s delivery was met by Partey at the near post, flicking it on to Rob Holding who controlled the ball before forcing it over the line. However, Holding was stood in an offside position as Partey flicked the ball on, seeing the goal ruled out.

Holding’s centre-back partner Gabriel had his own close attempt in the 43rd minute as Xhaka fired in a deep cross following a corner, picking out Gabriel who headed the ball back across goal and onto the crossbar. 

Brighton flurried forward on occasion during the first half but only managed two shots and failed to register a shot on target in the first period. 

Pépé gave Arsenal the breakthrough early in the second half as Xhaka rolled the ball out wide to Calum Chambers, who fizzed in a first time cross to Pépé.

The ball flicked up off the forward’s boot, setting him up for a powerful low strike through the legs of the Brighton keeper to make it 1-0.

The goal was met with “One-nil to the Arsenal” ringing around the Emirates Stadium as fans showed their applause.

But Brighton responded well with Webster playing the ball over the top to set Connolly through 1-on-1, only for the Brighton forward to fire wide.

Brighton’s only shot on target came in the 64th minute with Moder curling an effort on goal from outside of the box, which Bernd Leno was equal to.

Arsenal doubled the lead on the hour mark with Pépé bagging his brace.

Ødegaard skipped past Burn on the right wing before sliding the ball through to Pépé ahead of him. The Ivorian drove into the box, cutting inside and placing a shot between Dunk’s legs into the far corner to put Arsenal 2-0 up.

Arsenal maintained their pressure, striking the bar for a second time in the 72nd minute as Xhaka slid a ball through to Partey who cannoned a volley against the woodwork from the edge of the box.

The second goal took the wind out of the game with both teams playing out a routine ending.

Then news broke with just three minutes to go that Bale had put Tottenham 3-2 up against Leicester, adding another in the 96th minute to end any chances of Arsenal climbing above their North London rivals.

Upon the final whistle, Arsenal fans cheered their team off the pitch before returning to chants against the ownership. 

Arsenal: Leno, Chambers, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney, Partey, Xhaka, Pepe, Odegaard (Martinelli 86), Smith Rowe (Saka 74), Aubameyang (Lacazette 79).

Unused subs: Ceballos, Runarsson, Cedric Soares, Mari, Elneny, Nketiah.

Referee: Jonathan Moss.

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