Neal Maupay scored the winner five minutes into added time as relegation-threatened Brighton clinched a huge win over Arsenal, who once again lost a key player to injury.
The French striker showed coolness and class to slot in his ninth and most important goal of the season, give Albion their first league win of 2020 and cap a remarkable comeback.
Nicolas Pepe had fired the Gunners into a deserved lead with a superb curling shot with just over 20 minutes to go, but Lewis Dunk scrambled an equaliser over the line from close range to set up a barnstorming finish.
Maupay’s winner was a sucker punch for the Gunners, who have now lost back-to-back games since the Premier League returned – results that surely make a late run to Champions League qualification very unlikely.
They may also have to navigate the rest of the season without goalkeeper Bernd Leno, who was stretchered off after landing awkwardly on his ankle in the first half following an aerial challenge with Maupay.
Maupay’s role in the incident seemed to anger Leno’s team-mates, some of whom became embroiled in a shoving match with the striker at full-time.
Leno joins defender Pablo Mari and midfielder Granit Xhaka on the sidelines, both of whom were injured in Wednesday’s 3-0 loss at Manchester City.
There is no such negativity for Brighton, though. They appeared to come through the game largely unscathed and are now five points above the bottom three.
Brighton dig deep
Brighton were the first team to publicly voice opposition to games being played at neutral grounds as the debate raged last month about how the Premier League might conclude during the coronavirus pandemic.
With five of their remaining nine matches being at home, four of them against teams in the top half of the table (including Saturday’s), the Seagulls need every advantage that playing on home turf brings.
But while the Amex was obviously lacking in fervent home support, this did not hamper Albion’s appetite for the fight or ability to rouse themselves after a setback.
Pepe’s opener was a hammer blow, especially coming at a time in the game when the league’s three-month absence due to the coronavirus pandemic would have started to take its physical toll on the players.
But they dug deep and found parity through Dunk, who took advantage of some Arsenal hesitancy in their own box to poke the ball in after it had ricocheted his way.
Prior to that they had threatened rarely, with Aaron Mooy’s low first-half drive their best effort.
They would have the final say, though, as Maupay gathered the ball from substitute Aaron Connelly before producing a deft, decisive finish.
Familiar failings cost Arsenal
Arsenal were shambolic at Manchester City on Wednesday, primarily because of a calamitous display from centre-back David Luiz who came on for the injured Mari, gifted two goals to the home side and was then sent off.
The Gunners were more solid in Sussex, returning more closely to the kind of form that had seen them go unbeaten in 2020 prior to their visit to the Etihad.
They were also more solid, with Rob Holding in the suspended Luiz’s place. But this defeat will be more painful than that incurred three days ago.
They were the better side for much of it – more creative, more threatening and for 70 minutes at least, more assured.
Bukayo Saka was a menace in the first half and struck the bar with a fierce drive, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a number of efforts saved by Mat Ryan and would have had his 50th Arsenal goal but for an offside flag after he had broken clear.
Pepe has flattered to deceive at times since his club record £72m move from Lille, but his goal was superb – curled over the keeper and into the top corner from the left side of the box.
But a familiar soft underbelly was again their undoing. The equaliser came from more shoddy defending and they had no response to the setback.
With respect to Brighton, the Gunners have now lost twice to a side who only have seven league wins to their name all season – not a statistic associated with a team that has Champions League aspirations.
Man of the match – Lewis Dunk (Brighton)
Brighton’s late, late show – the stats you need to know
- At 94 minutes and 26 seconds, Neal Maupay’s winner was the latest Premier League goal Brighton have ever scored, while it was also the latest winning goal scored against Arsenal in the competition since exact goal-time data became available (2006-07).
- Brighton picked up their 100th victory in all competitions at the Amex Stadium since moving to the ground in 2011.
- Excluding penalties, only Aston Villa (15) have conceded more goals from set-piece situations than Arsenal this season (13), with Brighton’s leveller today coming from a corner.
- Eighteen-year-old Bukayo Saka has provided 11 assists in all competitions this season, at least three more than any other Arsenal player.
- Nicolas Pepe’s opener was his seventh goal in all competitions for Arsenal, but his first scored outside London.
- Lewis Dunk scored his sixth Premier League goal for Brighton, with Arsenal the only team he’s scored more than once against (2). Brighton have lost four of the six Premier League games in which Dunk has scored, with the exceptions being in those games against Arsenal (2-1 in 2017-18, 2-1 today).
- Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had seven shots against Brighton, the highest number of shots he’s had in a single match for the Gunners without scoring (all competitions).
Brighton face another tough game away at Leicester on Tuesday, while Arsenal have a couple of days more to prepare for their trip to Southampton.