Loyal fans turn fire on Wenger as as Gunners flop again
Brighton 2 Arsenal 1
What now feels like Arsene Wenger's long goodbye reached a new low at Brighton and Hove Albion's Amex Stadium yesterday.
Not simply for a defeat that raised familiar questions about the quality and mentality of this Arsenal team but a chant from the away end after 33 minutes that would once have been unthinkable.
"We want Wenger out," sang a significant number of Arsenal fans. It lasted seconds rather than minutes but it felt like a concerted and very audible point was being made that was different to past pockets of protest.
The away fans have previously been most supportive of Wenger but, with former chairman Peter Hill-Wood calling for change over the weekend, it has become increasingly difficult to find an outside voice arguing for the status quo.
Wenger had not moved from his dug-out seat during what was among the worst half-hours in his Arsenal tenure.
His team were two goals down against newly promoted opposition and frankly fortunate not to have been further behind. "What can I say? I understand the frustration," he later said.
The Brighton supporters, who had last hosted an Arsenal team in the top flight 34 years ago, could not resist a predictable but still humiliating take on the situation. "Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay," they chanted.
It is increasingly unlikely that they will be granted their wish, although the Europa League - in which Arsenal face AC Milan on Thursday - does offer the one remaining straw at which Wenger can now realistically clutch.
Arsenal did almost still salvage a point here but an eighth defeat in 2018 alone means that the gap to Tottenham in fourth - and Manchester City at the top - has further widened this weekend to respectively 13 and 33 points.
A repeated failure to sufficiently strengthen in central midfield and defence is coming back to haunt Arsenal and, having stayed aboard a tightrope now for several seasons, Wenger is now hanging by a fingertip.
Arsenal actually began here with a moderate amount of purpose. They were initially dominant in possession but an overlapping run from Ezepuiel Schelotto seemed suddenly to make Brighton realise the fragility of their visitors.
Marking the opposition centre-backs might seem the obvious defensive pre-requisite of a corner but that was forgotten as Shane Duffy rose to beat Petr Cech and head the ball back across Arsenal's six-yard box for Lewis Dunk to volley it emphatically into an empty goal.
Arsenal's defending was poor but even more alarming was how the players seemed so panicked by the early setback.
Rather than fashion the expected positive response, they were instead further cowered as Brighton sensed that the game was already theirs for the taking.
Laurent Koscielny repeatedly lost possession in his attempts to play the ball out of defence, while Brighton wingers Anthony Knockaeart and Jose Izquierdo were relishing the chance to run at Sead Kolasinac and Calum Chambers.
Neither Arsenal full-back is blessed with much pace but they also now look devoid of confidence.
A flurry of Brighton chances followed. Izquierdo had a shot defected wide and several Pascal Gross attempts were saved by Cech before a second goal did deservedly arrive.
Koscielny had again squandered possession, allowing Gross to curl his cross over a statues-like Shkodran Mustafi for Glenn Murray to head the ball beneath Cech, who has been stuck on 199 clean sheets since the middle of November.
It was another error by the Arsenal goalkeeper but he had again received precious little protection.
For Murray, it was an 11th Premier League goal of the season and his sixth in 2018. Only Sergio Aguero and Mo Salah have more since the turn of the year.
"Murray for England," sang the Brighton fans, but Wenger was by now the main focus for chanting from both sets of supporters.
His team did finally rally. Alex Iwobi linked with Xhaka and his clever pass into the penalty area allowed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to narrow Brighton's lead.
Arsenal almost drew level on the stroke of half-time when Henrikh Mkhitaryan's cross was headed against the inside of the post by Koscielny.
The Gunners were also on the front foot throughout most of the second half but still susceptible to the counter-attack and, on one break forward, Schelotto collided worryingly with Kolasinac's shoulder.
His head jarred back and he went down heavily before being helped off the pitch. The time needed to treat Schelotto meant that there would be seven minutes of added time but, even after introducing the pace both of Danny Welbeck and Hector Bellerin, Arsenal rarely threatened.
Brighton, who are unbeaten in seven and now probably within a win of safety, celebrated with ecstatic chants of "We are staying up".
It drowned out those Arsenal supporters who had remained but, with 'Wenger Out' banners on prominent display, the message both on and off the pitch had been unmistakeable.
The only question remaining is when the change till come. (© Daily Telegraph, London)