Just when Arsene Wenger thought it couldn’t get any worse, Premier League strugglers Brighton were on hand to inflict even more suffering as the Gunners fell to their third straight defeat in all competitions.
It took just seven minutes for Arsenal to go behind against Brighton in their Premier League match on Sunday afternoon. Lewis Dunk finished off a goalmouth scramble after goalkeeper Petr Cech was beaten to the ball by Shane Duffy for what was Brighton’s first league goal from a corner all season.
The second goal came on 26 minutes when Laurent Koscielny gave the ball away and Glen Murray was on hand to head in a cross from Pascal Gross. Brighton could and should have added to Arsenal’s woes in the first half by putting the game out of reach but Chris Hughton’s side spurned several clear-cut chances to give Wenger’s below-par team a hope of getting back into the game.
Three away wins in 15 games would be enough to get most top-level managers the sack and the likelihood of Wenger leaving Arsenal after 20 years is becoming more and more likely with each defeat. Former Gunners striker Alan Smith pondered in his commentary for Sky Sports whether majority shareholder and owner Stan Kroenke was watching the game, branding this Arsenal team the “worst” he’s seen for years. “The discontentment won't go until there's a new manager.”
Kroenke’s son Josh, who is currently in London on a three month review of matters at Arsenal, was not believed to have been present at the AMEX for another dismal defeat, but he is the man who will have a key influence in picking Wenger’s successor and deciding whether the Frenchman’s contract – which expires in the summer of 2019 – should come to an end sooner than next year.
Arsenal were toothless in the first half and the system Wenger has deployed this season clearly isn’t working. The 4-2-3-1 formation is providing no width due to the absence of natural wingers.
The reliance on the full-backs to get forward means that opposition teams can exploit the space behind them – as Brighton did on Sunday to Calum Chambers and Sead Kolasinac – which subsequently places more pressure on the central defenders and the man screening the back four, Granit Xhaka.
When your £35 million deep-lying playmaker is forced to cover for the rampaging full-backs, the problems at hand are there for everyone in the Premier League to see.
While the system is flawed, that’s not to say there aren't individuals in the current Arsenal team who need replacing. Petr Cech hasn’t kept a clean sheet in his last 11 matches and the ageing Laurent Koscielny, who hit the post shortly before half time, lacks vocal leadership and an assertiveness which he hasn’t had since his partnership with club captain Per Mertesacker was broken up a couple of seasons ago.
Only winning the Europa League can save Arsenal’s season now but few would give them much hope of that. Indeed, on Thursday they face what looks like a thankless task against a Gennaro Gattuso-inspired AC Milan side who are unbeaten in 13 games. It really does go from bad to worse for Wenger and every Arsenal fan.