Nicolas Pepe scored twice in the second half as Arsenal beat Brighton 2-0 but it was not enough to secure European football for next season.
A strong finish to the season moved the Gunners within a point of their north London rivals Tottenham as they finished in 8th place in the Premier League, just behind Spurs., and with Arsenal cruising after Pepe’s double, they were set to snatch seventh place from Spurs.
Despite finishing the season with a fifth straight win, Arsenal missed out on playing European football next season as Tottenham clinched a 4-2 victory at the King Power Stadium against Leicester City.
That result ends the Gunners’ record of playing in Europe every season since 1995-96 and means they have not finished above Tottenham since 2016. Tottenham’s victory also saw Leicester miss out on Champions League football on the final day for a second consecutive season.
Arsenal director Josh Kroenke, son of owner Stan, was in attendance and some of the 10,000 fans returning to Emirates Stadium held banners that read ‘Kroenke Out’, given the club’s involvement in the abandoned breakaway European Super League. Fans have had issues with the ownership for a long time but the ill-feeling peaked after the Super League plan.
Arsenal were firmly on top in the game, with Gabriel heading against the crossbar in the first half before Nicolas Pepe opened the scoring in the 49th minute as he controlled Calum Chambers’ low cross nicely to comfortably fire past goalkeeper Robert Sanchez.
There was a party atmosphere inside the ground when Arsenal and Ghanaian midfielder Thomas Partey volleyed against the crossbar. The Gunners fans had hopes of potentially finishing above Spurs as the game at the King Power was level at that point in time.
After Arsenal’s defeat at Everton on 19th December 2020, that seemed unthinkable as the Gunners were 15th, four points above the relegation zone and 11 behind third-placed Tottenham.
The fact they got so close, even after being seven points behind the Spurs with just five games left, offers some encouragement for next season.
Pepe and Odegaard hit some top form towards the end of this season. Ivorian Pepe has finished the season with five goals in three games, suggesting he could be a key man for Arsenal next term and is slowly gaining the trust of fans, while Norwegian Odegaard showed why Real Madrid were not willing to sell him outright.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said: “This club deserves trophies and the Champions League and we haven’t managed to do that in very challenging circumstances. Now we have to be critical of ourselves and prepare for (the) next season in the best possible way.
“It is frustrating because last season with 61 points we [would have finished] fifth. Now we are eighth and that is the step that we have to identify.
“The level has gone so high so the only way to do it is to be much better next season and much more consistent, and this is the challenge ahead of us.”