LONDON (AFP) – Caretaker manager Freddie Ljungberg said Arsenal “did not show up” for the first 45 minutes as the Gunners’ winless streak reached nine games in a 2-1 home defeat to Brighton on Thursday night.
Neal Maupay headed in a deserved winner for the Seagulls 10 minutes from time after Alexandre Lacazette had cancelled out Adam Webster’s opener for Brighton.
Defeat leaves Arsenal in 10th place and 10 points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea in the hunt for Champions League qualification next season.
On this evidence there is little chance of Ljungberg landing the job on a permanent basis as another sparse crowd at the Emirates greeted the final whistle with a chorus of boos.
After a 2-2 draw at Norwich last Sunday in the first match since Unai Emery was sacked, there was again no sign of a new manager bounce for Ljungberg’s home bow as Brighton dominated the first 45 minutes and could have gone in at the break more than one goal to the good.
“You cannot give away a whole half against any team in the Premier League,” said Ljungberg.
“We did not show up in the first half, we very passive, we didn’t move. We had a chat at half-time, made a tactical change and all of a sudden we looked like the team we wanted to for 20 minutes.”
Aaron Connolly missed a glorious chance and Bernd Leno denied Maupay and Davy Propper before Brighton deservedly took the lead when Arsenal failed to clear a corner and Webster fired home the loose ball from close range.
Joe Willock was sacrificed at the interval as Ljungberg introduced club record signing Nicolas Pepe, who had started on the bench for the fifth straight league game under two different managers.
Ljungberg’s half-time tinkering did the trick as the hosts came out a different side in the second half.
Lacazette’s looping header brought Arsenal level just five minutes into the second period before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was inches away from connecting with crosses from Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac.
David Luiz thought he had put Arsenal in front as he turned home from Mesut Ozil’s free-kick only for the Brazilian to rightly be ruled offside after a video assistant referee (VAR) review.
Brighton made the most of that reprieve to win on the road in the Premier League for the first time since the opening weekend of the season as Aaron Mooy’s cross picked out Maupay to head into the far corner.
Ljungberg believes Arsenal need a win by any means to regain some confidence before they can start to look at gaining ground on the top four.
“They look very short on confidence. In the first half they seemed a bit scared to get on the ball,” added the Swede.
“They have to get a win, get some confidence. They showed at the beginning of the second half for 20 minutes what they are capable of.”
Victory for Brighton takes them to within a point of Arsenal and four clear of the relegation zone.
“We had lots of quality and courage,” said Brighton boss Graham Potter, whose side enjoyed more possession and more shots on goal than the hosts.
“The main stat is the scoreline. At the end it’s nice for the players and supporters that you get a reward for the way we are trying to play.”