Nicolas Pepe scored twice as Arsenal beat Brighton 2-0 but the Gunners missed out on the final European qualification spot.
Arsenal appeared on track for a seventh-placed finish – and a spot in the Europa Conference League – after Nicolas Pepe’s second-half double at the Emirates Stadium, but Tottenham’s late win over Leicester left them in eighth and facing their first season without European football in 25 years.
Arsenal were frustrated by Brighton in a one-sided first half but finally made the breakthrough when Pepe expertly controlled a Calum Chambers cross and fired past Robert Sanchez (49).
The in-form Ivorian then made it five goals in his last three appearances when he latched onto a Martin Odegaard pass and produced another clinical finish (60) from the right-hand side of the Brighton box.
The victory lifts Arsenal above Everton, who were beaten 5-0 by champions Manchester City, but Mikel Arteta’s side have to settle for eighth place – and a season out of European competition – due to Tottenham’s dramatic 4-2 victory at the King Power Stadium.
Brighton, meanwhile, perhaps fatigued by their dramatic comeback win over Manchester City on Tuesday, finish in 16th place.
Arsenal: Leno (7), Chambers (8), Holding (7), Gabriel (7), Tierney (7), Xhaka (7), Partey (7), Odegaard (8), Pepe (9), Smith Rowe (7), Aubameyang (6).
Subs: Saka (6), Lacazette (6), Martinelli (6)
Brighton: Sanchez (6), Jahanbakhsh (6), Webster (6), Dunk (6), White (6), Burn (6), Bissouma (7), Moder (7), Gross (6), Mac Allister (5), Trossard (5).
Subs: Lallana (6), Connolly (6), Alzate (6).
Man of the match: Nicolas Pepe
How Arsenal won… but missed out on Europe
There were more scenes of protest against Arsenal’s Kroenke family owners outside the stadium ahead of kick-off and many of the 10,000 fans in the stands then held up posters reading ‘Kroenke out, fans in’ as the players emerged from the tunnel.
But their ire was aimed solely at the owners, rather than the players, and they were quick to get behind the team as Arsenal dominated proceedings from the outset.
Odegaard, playing the final game of his loan spell from Real Madrid, was at the heart of almost every attack in the early stages but it was Thomas Partey who had the first chance, curling a long-range effort narrowly wide.
The Ghanaian, who is still waiting for his first Arsenal goal, then went even closer when his looping strike forced the back-peddling Sanchez into a scrambling save.
Brighton offered little as an attacking force but did at least defend resolutely in the first half, although they were fortunate to go into the break level after Gabriel Magalhaes sent a header against the bar shortly before the break.
Arsenal didn’t have to wait long, however, with Pepe’s opener arriving just a few minutes after half-time. Chambers’ low cross was firmly struck, but the Ivorian controlled it with his first touch then dispatched a powerful finish with his second.
The Gunners were appealing for a penalty soon after that when Odegaard went to ground following a counter-attack, their appeals waved away by Jonathan Moss, but any frustration at that decision subsided when they doubled their lead a few minutes later.
It was another fine finish from Pepe as he collected Odegaard’s through-ball and punished Lewis Dunk for backing off him, steering the ball into the bottom corner beyond the despairing Sanchez.
Bernd Leno had to make a rare save from Jakub Moder as Brighton attempted to claw their way back into the game but the hosts continued to have the upper hand and should have extended their lead.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang sliced wastefully wide from one counter-attack while Partey struck the bar with a powerful effort from Granit Xhaka’s pass.
There was a warm reception for Alexandre Lacazette as he came off the bench for what could be his final appearance for Arsenal while Odegaard, who is due to return to return to Real Madrid following his loan spell, was also loudly cheered when he was replaced by Gabriel Martinelli.
The Gunners appeared to be heading up to seventh place and into the Europa Conference League at that point, but Tottenham’s late comeback at the King Power Stadium means they miss out by a point despite a winning end to a difficult Premier League campaign.
What the managers said
Mikel Arteta: “Happy with the performance and the result and most importantly having our fans back after such a long time. Thanks so much to them.
“If anyone was doubting about their reaction, they showed clearly how much they want to support the team, so thank you so much on behalf of myself, the staff and all the players.
“But then disappointed because we are not in Europe. We made progress in terms of points. Sixty-one points last year would have taken us to fifth. But it shows the way the league is developing and the level we need to get to.”
Graham Potter: “The boys kept going. You can’t criticise them for that. Sometimes you have to be honest and say we weren’t quite at our level, but not for the want of trying.
“I think we just had a tough week and a tough season and today was maybe a little bit of a step too far for us against a good team with really, really good attacking players.”
Opta stats – Pepe shows his value
- Nicolas Pepe has been involved in more goals in all competitions than any other Arsenal player this season (21 – 16 goals, five assists).
- Arsenal have won their final league game in each of the last 10 Premier League campaigns, and haven’t lost on matchday 38 since the 2004-05 campaign against Birmingham.
- Brighton have lost three consecutive away league games for the first time since January 2020.
- Despite finishing the season with five consecutive league victories, Arsenal have finished as low as 8th in consecutive campaigns for the first time since a run of four between 1973-74 and 1976-77.
- Arsenal have kept three clean sheets in their last five Premier League games, more than they had in their previous 14 in the competition (two).
- Arsenal had three players score 10+ Premier League goals this season (Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pépé), the first time they’ve had as many reach double figures since 2016-17 (Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott).
What’s next? Euros, transfer window, 2021/22 key dates
Euro 2020 kicks off on Friday June 11 – just 19 days after the conclusion of the 2020/21 Premier League season – and runs until Sunday July 11.
The 2021/22 Premier League campaign will start on the weekend of Saturday August 14 – 34 days after that Euro 2020 final at Wembley.
Clubs will be able to start planning for the new term when the top-flight fixtures are released at 9am on Wednesday, June 16 but transfer business can start in earnest before then, with the summer transfer window opening on Wednesday June 9.
The 2021/22 Championship season begins a week before the top-flight one on the weekend of Saturday August 7. All Sky Bet EFL fixtures will be announced at 9am on Thursday June 24.