Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger defiantly insisted he could lead the crisis-stricken Gunners from their malaise despite admitting it was all but impossible for his side to finish in the Premier League’s top four after defeat to Brighton.
Centre-half Lewis Dunk and striker Glenn Murray seized upon flimsy goalkeeping from Petr Cech to fire Brighton into a two-goal lead, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s strike shortly before half-time failed to spark a revival.
Defeat intensified the pressure upon the under-fire Wenger and the travelling Arsenal fans let their feelings be known as banners were unfurled calling for his departure and chants to the same effect heard in ever increasing volume.
“I believe a quality of manager is to shorten the crisis. Until now I’ve managed to do it. I believe I can do it,” said Wenger. “At the moment my future is not my main worry. It’s about Arsenal winning games, then we’ll see where we can go from there.
“There are always questions when you are in the situation we are in. You do your job and you do the right thing and the things you think are right for the team and that’s it.
“I’ll try and give my best as long as I am here. We have to get the team back more confidence. But we need to recover physically first. The programme we have at the moment is too demanding.”
Arsenal have now lost four successive matches for the first time since October 2002, while the north Londoners are a whopping 33 points behind runaway leaders Manchester City and 13 adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham and the final Champions League spot.
“It’s very difficult, nearly impossible now [to finish in the top four],” added Wenger. “We have to be realistic. We need two teams to collapse. I can’t see that happening at the moment because two teams dropping points is difficult to imagine.”
Brighton’s victory, their first over Arsenal since 1982, moved them to 10th and seven points clear of the relegation zone, while a run of five top-flight matches unbeaten could not have come at a more opportune time for Chris Hughton’s Seagulls.
The hosts opened the scoring on seven minutes as Cech committed himself but then failed to collect a Pascal Gross corner, and Shane Duffy headed back across goal for defensive partner Dunk to slam home.
Arsenal’s travails worsened on 26 minutes as Laurent Koscielny conceded cheap possession and Gross provided the ammunition for Murray, with Shkodran Mustafi out of position, to head through a hapless Cech.
Only Bournemouth and Everton have rescued more points from a losing position than Arsenal this season and the Gunners hinted at a comeback as Aubameyang deftly flicked Granit Xhaka’s pass beyond Brighton stopper Mathew Ryan. But a false dawn it proved.