DAN MATTHEWS: Arsenal must see through the rubble of their failed title bid
Shortly after the final whistle sounded at the Emirates, the verdict came in.
An elite coach from American sport had come across the pond to watch Arsenal’s title hopes crumble.
He told Mail Sport: ‘Growth can be painful at times.’
This Monday morning, it will be hard for Mikel Arteta and his players to see through the fog of disappointment.
To pick out the positives of a remarkable campaign and the lessons to learn from this defeat by Brighton.
Arsenal players and manager Mikel Arteta (right) looked on dejectedly against Brighton
Manchester City now hold a four point advantage over Arsenal and boast a game in-hand on the Gunners
But Arteta must look amid the rubble of this result and see building blocks for an even brighter future.
For Sunday highlighted the scale of the challenge trying to compete with Manchester City. It’s remarkable that Arsenal matched them for so long.
At Goodison Park, with Real Madrid to come in midweek, Pep Guardiola shuffled his pack: John Stones, Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne were all rested.
In came Aymeric Laporte, Riyad Mahrez, Julian Alvarez and Phil Foden. A nonsense of riches.
It is no coincidence that Arteta, in contrast, made only one enforced change.
The Arsenal boss has made 12 fewer tweaks to his starting XI than any other Premier League manager this season. That has helped his side gel and allowed combinations to develop.
But it has also revealed the lack of depth in Arsenal’s squad.
They are ahead of schedule. They are not built for a title challenge. Let alone for the demands of Europe as well.
Bukayo Saka has starred for Arsenal this season but struggled against Brighton
As Arteta conceded afterwards: ‘With the level that is required for the Premier League and to fight for the Champions League, the way we have to fight for the Champions League, there’s a lot to think about.’
No wonder they expect to be busy this summer – Arsenal must steel themselves to compete on multiple fronts, all while several players – such as Granit Xhaka and Kieran Tierney – could leave.
That requires more depth but also more quality and more flexibility – different options to give Arteta different ways to play.
Declan Rice is a primary target and would strengthen their midfield.
They remain interested in Moises Caicedo, who put in an astonishing performance for Brighton on Sunday. The fact it came at right back won’t be lost on Arsenal, either.
But Arteta must learn from this season, too.
After the game, he rejected the notion that his side simply ran out of steam. But it was telling that, with time ticking away and Arsenal needing goals, he brought off both Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Jesus – his two most effective lock pickers.
Brighton put on a brilliant display at the Emirates on Sunday to beat the Gunners 3-0
That doesn’t happen often. But, by the end, they and many team-mates looked to be running on empty. No doubt people will suggest that, had Arteta rotated more readily, Arsenal might not have faded down the stretch.
Certainly Guardiola’s side have mastered the ability to peak at the right time.
Plenty of challenges, then, for Arsenal to tackle as they bid to ensure this is just the start.
The visiting coach was left in no doubt: ‘Arsenal will be back,’ they said. ‘Steps at a time’.
Odegaard sensed the unique challenge that awaited his side
The Arsenal captain, writing in the matchday programme, paid tribute to Brighton’s bravery playing out from the back.
He praised how intensely they press and how Roberto De Zerbi’s side can shackle the opposition by going man-to-man.
Even so. Surely Odegaard can’t have expected to have been stalked and shadowed quite like this?
Arsenal skipper Martin Odegaard was man-marked around the pitch by Brighton’s midfielders
Levi Colwill. What a performance. What a talent.
The 20-year-old had only started four games since mid-January after suffering a muscular injury and seeing Adam Webster cement his place alongside Lewis Dunk.
But Colwill slotted back in at the Emirates with a display of immense bravery both on and off the ball.
The centre back tracked Odegaard all over the pitch – even up to the edge of the Arsenal box – to stifle the playmaker’s influence. It was high-tariff but highly effective.
‘The best example of courage was Colwill,’ De Zerbi said. ‘We defended man to man. And the man of Colwill was Odegaard. Colwill went 90 minutes to defend Odegaard, 80 metres or 90 metres from Gabriel Jesus. This is courage.’
There was courage, too, in the way he played.
Brighton’s Levi Colwill (left) produced a terrific display against Arsenal at the Emirates
Collwill ended this game with 111 touches – more than any other player and nearly double the most of anyone from Arsenal (56).
He made 98 passes – more than anyone else and more than double any Arsenal player.
He completed nearly 90 per cent of his passes – and nearly two thirds of his 19 long balls.
Incredible, really, when you consider the high-stakes game of cat and mouse that Colwill and Co played every time they lured Arsenal on to them.
The 20-year-old has only started four games since mid-January for Brighton after suffering an injury
Time and again Brighton played with fire deep inside their own box. Time and again it was Colwill’s pass that sprung the visitors out of a trap and on to the attack.
It was another performance that made you wonder: why did Chelsea let him go on loan? Why did they bother throwing money at the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly?
As reported by Sportsmail, Colwill is already catching the attention of England boss Gareth Southgate.
Left footed, still only 20, Colwill showed once more that he has the potential to rise through the Under-21 set up and have a brilliant future for club and country.