Arsenal taught £77m lesson by brilliant Brighton and De Zerbi as title finally slips from Arteta’s grasp

Matt Stead
Brighton celebrate scoring against Arsenal

The focus will be on Arsenal and a Premier League title race that is no more, but Brighton were absolutely sensational at the Emirates and deserved the win.


By the close of play on the antepenultimate weekend of the Premier League season, one burning question remained: Could you imagine what Sean Dyche would be capable of in charge of this Brighton team?

Everton’s quite ludicrous 5-1 win over the Seagulls was the unexpected palate cleanser to the final meal of this title race. Both sides, presumably stunned at what had taken place at the Amex Stadium on Bank Holiday Monday, were cast as the latest agitators of the elite at a pivotal juncture in this infernal road. A pair of 3-0 victories might have predicted by some, just perhaps not like this.

The only debate might be whether Brighton dispatched Arsenal with greater ease than Manchester City showed against Everton earlier in the day. They are so dynamic as a team. They have incredible players. All of them have incredible quality and are incredible in small spaces,” Pep Guardiola said of these flying Seagulls in October, adding of Roberto De Zerbi: “His impact in England will be massive.”

Little did he know. For a manager who “doesn’t know our game” to the extent he apparently had to derive his knowledge of Brighton entirely from Google, De Zerbi has acclimatised fairly well on the coast.

This would have been his crowning performance and achievement if the Italian’s season hadn’t already featured three-goal wins over Chelsea and Liverpool, victory against Man Utd and a 6-0 thrashing of Wolves. Brighton were sensational, composed and completely unfazed by the notion they were being hosted by a title challenger.

Manchester City might well be relieved they have two other games in which the trophy can be secured, because on this evidence the three points they need won’t come at the Amex on May 24. Arsenal had lost only once at home this season – to Guardiola’s side in February – and had not been beaten at the Emirates by a scoreline this resounding since April 2021 against Liverpool. Yet Brighton dismantled not only them but their very idea of how to play the sport.

Arsenal midfielder Emile Smith Rowe looks dejected after conceding a goal

What often felt like a controlled experiment in how close Brighton can come to losing the ball when playing out from the back in the first half led to a glorious explosion after the break as the visitors made themselves as comfortable as possible.

The opening goal was a real curiosity: Jakub Kiwior forgetting to press ‘Start’ to pause the game before adjusting his boot, his left foot having been innocuously stepped on by Evan Ferguson, leaving Julio Enciso free in the six-yard box to head past Aaron Ramsdale, was true Arsenal centre-half heritage. For all his faults, that chapter is missing from the Rob Holding playbook.

But Brighton pushed that advantage instead of settling. With an increasingly desperate Arsenal devoid of original thought, De Zerbi stepped on the throat. Danny Welbeck, formerly unspectacularly of this parish, was introduced as another option to both escape a slack Gunners press and apply further pressure to a panicked defence.

All three Brighton substitutions were of the attacking variety and the last bore the sweetest fruit. Deniz Undav replaced Ferguson and capitalised with a seemingly trademark lob over Ramsdale when Leandro Trossard was pressed into oblivion by Pascal Gross to make it 2-0 in the 86th minute.

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The toils of Trossard pleased the travelling Brighton faithful but the punishment Benjamin White endured against Kaoru Mitoma bordered on the excruciating. And that really was the beauty of this Seagulls victory: they received £77m from Arsenal for those two excellent players, yet have improved immeasurably and exposed the flaws they exhibit outside of their system so thoroughly.

In terms of their most enjoyable, gloat-inducing wins, it must have come a close second to the deconstruction of Marc Cucurella and Graham Potter’s Chelsea last year.

Arsenal had been broken long before Pervis Estupinan converted on the rebound in stoppage-time, their title hopes ablaze, their previously automatic functions disabled and the belief they had generated with those late comebacks in winter and spring abandoned.

When the dust settles they will acknowledge this as a phenomenal season in which expectations were exceeded, yet simultaneously a campaign in which they could not quite hold their nerve or pace. Arsenal will keep going until the end but their remaining games are little more than a lap of mutual appreciation for players and fans. Brighton are breaking into European at an irresistible canter.