Mikel Arteta blasted another “really poor” first half from his Arsenal team as a second defeat in a week further dented their top-four hopes.
The Arsenal boss had called for a reaction from his side after Monday’s 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace but a 2-1 loss at home to Brighton saw them miss the chance to move up to fourth again.
The Gunners were once again poor in the opening 45 minutes, when they trailed to Leandro Trossard’s strike, and fell behind after the break to Enock Mwepu’s half-volley.
It wasn’t until Martin Odegaard’s long-range deflected strike hit the net in the 89th minute that Arsenal really stepped up the intensity but, as Arteta says, by then it was too late.
Afterwards, he criticised his side’s lack of reaction to Monday night and their inability to impose themselves on the match, particularly in the first half.
“The first half was really poor again,” he said. “The reaction that we wanted to show and everything we talked about we didn’t make it happen on the pitch.
“We were sloppy with the ball, we were second best in a lot of situations, we didn’t show any purpose or build any momentum in the game, we didn’t play with the right speed and transform the game Brighton proposed today and the first chance – the only chance they had – they scored a goal.
“We created a cold atmosphere we were uncomfortable with. When we tried to change it, it was great not to give up but it was too late.
“The fans were here and again they were exceptional. You can see the moment we gave them something… but we played a game that you could not see the purpose, the intention of what the team was trying to do. We didn’t give them anything in the first half and that is down to us.
“It was not a problem of attitude, it was a problem of courage we showed to play and we didn’t have that purpose. We didn’t have that intention to attack and step in and provoke the situation we wanted to. We were looking at each other too many times instead of taking ownership and doing what we have to do. You can’t play like that.”
It was another ineffective performance from striker Alexandre Lacazette, who has failed to have a shot on target in any of the last four games, but Arteta insisted the Gunners’ attacking problems were a “collective issue”.
However, he accepted the tactical change he’d made for the match, with Emile Smith Rowe in a slightly deeper role and the decision to field Granit Xhaka at left-back and drop the out-of-form Nuno Tavares hadn’t worked as he’d hoped.
“The spaces we wanted to attack, it fitted Emile to play that position and because we thought the space would be there for Granit to use, which it was. But we didn’t use it.”
That was a big moment because that would have changed the game. The momentum and the energy. When you’re not playing so well you need something to go your way and we hit the bar twice and the keeper made some excellent saves. It didn’t happen but it’s down to us.
That change had been forced by an injury to Kieran Tierney, while Thomas Partey’s absence in midfield is adding to Arteta’s problems.
With Chelsea, Manchester United and West Ham to come in three of their next four games, Arsenal have a lot of work to do to make the Champions League spots, after looking favourites to finish in the top four a few weeks ago.
Reflecting on the task ahead, Arteta said: “With all the team available we knew how difficult the challenge was. Those two injuries make the situation more complicated. But we can’t look at that because we can’t be looking for excuses. What happened today is down to us, the players we have and the way we prepared the game.
“What happens next? We criticise ourselves a lot because we deserved to [lose] because we were really poor first half and lift ourselves up.
“We know this road is taking us nowhere, especially where we want to be. We have everything to play for in the last eight games. We have to have that level of energy and visualise the beautiful challenge we have ahead, don’t sit back and let’s see what happens.”
Arsenal’s remaining fixtures
April 16 – Southampton (a)
April 20 – Chelsea (a), live on Sky Sports
April 23 – Man Utd (h)
May 1 – West Ham (a), live on Sky Sports
May 8 – Leeds (h), live on Sky Sports
May 12 – Tottenham (a), live on Sky Sports
May 16 – Newcastle (a), live on Sky Sports
May 22 – Everton (h)