Although mathematically still unconfirmed, the faces of the Arsenal players at the end of their 3-0 loss to Brighton on Saturday made it clear that they knew the Premier League title race was over.
Some watched in the distance, others sat on the pitch and watched the ground as their opponents rushed to the opposite end to celebrate with their cheering fans.
This match felt like the last chance saloon for Arsenal. They still needed the unlikely scenario of a Manchester City crash in their remaining three games, but a win was essential if they were to stay in the chase.
Instead they capitulated as Brighton scored three goals in the second half to bolster their fairy tale bid to secure European football next season.
The loss means Arsenal are four points behind leaders Manchester City and have just two games to play. Pep Guardiola’s side know that a win over Chelsea at the Etihad next Saturday means the title will be theirs once again.
“It’s going to be very difficult now, we have to be honest. It’s hard to take it,” Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard told Sky Sports.
“It’s not a good feeling at the moment. The way we played, especially in the second half. I don’t know what happened to be honest.
“Looks like there’s no hope now.”
Arteta sorry for an “unacceptable” performance
Arsenal had been the better side in the first half as former Brighton striker Leandro Trossard hit the crossbar, but Julio Enciso gave the Seagulls the lead six minutes into the second half and the Gunners are gradually aggravated realizing their chances of staying in the title race were rapidly diminishing.
Substitute Deniz Undav pounced on a deflected clearance four minutes from time to put victory beyond Arsenal’s reach before Pervis Estupinan rubbed salt into the injury deep in stoppage time.
By then many Arsenal fans had already left, crushed that the only glimmer of hope of winning their first Premier League title since 2004 was all but over.
“We have to apologize for the performance in the second half. It was not acceptable,” said Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta.
“Mathematically it’s still possible but now it’s impossible to think about it. You have to digest the result and the performance in the second half, understand why and have a different reaction.”
“The last few weeks have been too much for Arsenal”
Earlier today, Manchester City had comfortably beat Everton 3-0 at Goodison Park to extend their Premier League winning streak to 11 games.
It was the result that former Manchester United captain Gary Neville delivered a psychological blow to Arsenal players ahead of their own game.
“I think that’s it [the title race] finished,” said the Sky Sports pundit.
“It was a tough game for Manchester City on paper, but they went through it and it had an impact on those Arsenal players.
“It’s been too much for them for the past few weeks. That moment was always going to come where Arsenal struggled and they couldn’t get out of it.”
April started with a 4-1 thrashing of Leeds that took Arsenal eight points clear at the top of the Premier League, but the month ended with a defeat by the same scoreline at Manchester City to put the Guardiola’s team in charge.
April also saw them throw away two two-goal leads – to Liverpool and West Ham – as well as a 2-0 home defeat to Southampton after just 14 minutes.
Those dropped points ultimately proved crucial and former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira believes the Gunners need more leaders on their side to help them through these tough times.
“You want leadership and it [Martin Odegaard] has been the technical leader on the pitch but they lack a physical leader, a leader who can get behind the players when they are not at the right level,” he said.
“They need a more competitive squad. You look at Manchester City’s physical attributes and they are bigger and stronger than Arsenal.
“It’s up to Mikel [Arteta] to fix it this summer.”
A big summer in perspective?
Arsenal have spent much of the season at the top of the table, so it’s understandable that many of their fans are suffering from a missed opportunity right now.
But there was still big progress, with Arteta’s side sealing a Champions League return for the first time in six years.
“Arsenal lack the strength and depth of Manchester City,” said former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane. “They failed. It’s as simple as that.
“They need to find the right players with the right character, so if they get back to that position, pole position, they will have a chance to succeed.”
Arsenal still have two games of the current campaign before the start of a huge summer in which they will look to sign the right players to ensure they are better equipped to overcome the obstacles they have stumbled upon this season.