Arsene Wenger insisted he was still the right man to turn around Arsenal’s fortunes after a 2-1 loss to Brighton on Sunday saw the Gunners suffer their fourth straight defeat in all competitions.
Successive 3-0 reverses by Manchester City, the first in the League Cup final and the second in the league, could be explained in part by the dominance of Pep Guardiola’s runaway table-toppers, but the losses to Ostersunds in the Europa League and to Brighton verged on embarrassing.
City won 1-0 at home to Chelsea later on Sunday, with Bernardo Silva scoring the decisive goal, as they moved a commanding 18 points clear of the chasing pack.
First-half goals from Lewis Dunk and Glenn Murray put south coast club Brighton in command and, although Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pulled one back before the break, that was as good as it got for the Gunners.
Arsenal’s eighth loss since the turn of the year left their hopes of a top-four finish in tatters, with Wenger admitting it was “already gone” even before the Gunners were left 13 points adrift of the leading quartet.
Their best chance of qualifying for the elite and lucrative Champions League appears to lie instead in winning the second-tier Europa League, where Arsenal face Italian giants AC Milan in the first of a two-legged last-16 clash at the San Siro on Thursday.
Veteran French boss Wenger has been in charge at Arsenal since 1996 and it remains to be seen whether US-based owner Stan Kroenke has the stomach to sack a manager who has never given the slightest hint he will resign.
“It’s the first time its happened in my whole career and it’s not easy,” Wenger told Sky Sports. “I have enough experience and desire to turn things around. When the team struggles for confidence it’s even more difficult.”
– ‘Focus on the job’ –
As for suggestions Arsenal could no longer finish in the top four, Wenger replied: “I think it has already gone before but mathematically with five teams in front of us, we need them to collapse to think it will happen.”
And once again, amid reports of players’ meetings and a growing lack of boardroom backing, the 68-year-old Wenger made it clear he was not considering a future away from Arsenal.
“No. I think what I said before focus on the job, always you do the right thing and do the things that are right for the team.”
Petr Cech appeared to be partly at fault for both Brighton goals and afterwards the experienced goalkeeper tried to ease the pressure on Wenger by telling his Twitter followers: “If you want to win a game away from home in the best league in the world your GK (goalkeeper) can’t concede 2 goals like I did today.”
The win took Brighton seven points clear of the bottom three.
For the Seagulls, who face Manchester United in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, victory meant they had beaten a top-six side for the first time this season.
“What it feels at the moment is that this is a big win, particularly given who we were playing against,” said Brighton manager Chris Hughton.
– ‘In our hands’ –
At the Etihad, Bernardo Silva’s goal early in the second half gave City victory over a cautious Chelsea.
“It was so important, a win today is another step closer,” Guardiola told the BBC. “We need four victories to be champions, it is in our hands and if our behaviour is like today we will be champions.”
There was criticism of Chelsea manager Antonio Conte’s defensive tacics, but Guardiola said: “I never judge what the other guy does. Who can forget the same manager and almost same players were champions last year?”
Conte, however, was visibly affected by the death of Fiorentina defender Davide Astori.
Aged just 31, Astori died due to a suspected heart attack on Sunday.
“This is a tragedy and it really hurts me,” said Conte, who coached Astori when he was in charge of Italy.
“He was a great player but especially a fantastic guy. I stay close to his wife, parents and daughter. He was only 31 and it’s very difficult to explain this situation.”