Arsenal 1 Brighton & Hove Albion 1: Already-safe Albion all but end Gunners' top-four hopes
Two penalties settled an entertaining draw between Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League this afternoon.
The pressure was off for Brighton after their place in the Premier League was assured for a third successive season after Crystal Palace won 3-2 at Cardiff last night. However, Arsenal needed to win to keep their hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League through a top-four finish alive.
After a bright start, Arsenal took the lead on the ninth minute thanks to a confidently taken penalty by Aubameyang after Alireza Jahanbakhsh was contentiously adjudged to have tripped Nacho Monreal. Replays showed there was minimal contact but referee Anthony Taylor was well placed to make the call.
Brighton settled into the game and created a number of chances, but it was Arsenal who finished the half strongest, forcing Mat Ryan into several fine saves.
However, it was Albion who came out firing in the second half. After Murray almost found the net after a brilliant one-two with March, the veteran striker was presented an opportunity to level from the spot after March was brought down by Xhaka. Murray coolly slotted the ball home to make it 1-1.
Both teams spurned glorious chances to win the game, but Brighton defended resolutely to maintain their much-improved run of form at the expense of Arsenal, whose top-four hopes are all but over. The Gunners now sit three points below fourth-placed Tottenham, needing an eight-goal swing in the final round of fixtures.
Arsenal edge end-to-end first half
The hosts were almost ahead within two minutes with Henrikh Mkhitaryan's low strike hitting the inside of a post. Mesut Ozil looked set to put away the rebound, but was flagged offside.
The home side kept up the early pressure and were awarded a penalty when Jahanbakhsh was adjudged to have tripped Monreal as he made his way into the Albion box. Aubameyang made no mistake in sending Mat Ryan the wrong way to give Arsenal a deserved early lead and take his goal tally for the season up to 20.
It looked like the Gunners might runaway with the game, but, after, Greek defender Sokratis was rightly booked for diving, the visitors settled into it and started creating chances of their own.
Looking to threaten on the break, Albion had a penalty appeal of their own turned down after Pascal Gross' free-kick, just outside the box, hit Sokratis on the top of the shoulder.
A nervy few minutes ensued for the hosts, with a poor pass out by keeper Bernd Leno falling straight at the feet of March, who found Glenn Murray, but the striker's shot was charged down.
Leno then made amends by saving Murray's downward header, but Brighton continued to pose a danger on the break. After a fine, solo run, March fired into the side-netting before a Gross corner almost found the net.
Arsenal regained control of the game towards the end of the first half and Shkodran Mustafi very nearly doubled their lead with a header from a corner, which was expertly stopped by Ryan. Aubameyang then got on the end of a low cross from the left but Ryan got down well to again come to his side's rescue.
Ryan had to again get down to push away a long-range strike, before Alexandre Lacazette's resulting effort was headed over by Shane Duffy.
Albion fight back
The Seagulls started the second half strongly and Murray forced a save from Leno after playing an excellent one-two with March.
Albion were given a golden chance to make their bright second half start count, when they were awarded a spot-kick after Granit Xhaka appeared to grab the shirt of March.
Murray needed no second invitation to calmly slot the ball past Leno to level the scoring in front of the jubilant away fans.
Within minutes, Albion almost scored a quick-fire second after Murray headed a cross back across goal, but the waiting Yves Bissouma got himself into a tangle and couldn't get a shot away.
Arsenal piled on the pressure in search of an equaliser and Aubameyang volleyed over the bar from a corner. The Gabonese striker was given a chance to redeem himself moments later, after being found by another cross, but he somehow managed to spurn his scissor-kick style effort well wide of the post from a very good position.
Unai Emery responded by using all three of his substitutions, bringing on Sead Kolasinac, Alex Iwobi and Matteo Guendouzi for Stephan Lichtsteiner, Xhaka, and Mkhitaryan.
Chris Hughton also made a change, replacing goalscorer Murray for Florin Andone.
The substitutions slowed the pace of the game up, but Arsenal continued pressing for an equaliser.
However, it was Brighton who came inches away from an unlikely winner. It was a dreadful miss by Gross after he was found free by a header across goal, with the German slamming the ball out for a throw-in when it looked easier to score.
The Seagulls survived an Arsenal onslaught in injury time for an admirable point, but it could have been more when Anthony Knockaert held onto the ball too long after breaking free on the counter-attack
Arsenal: Leno, Lichtsteiner (Kolasinac 77), Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal, Torreira, Xhaka (Iwobi 77), Mkhitaryan (Guendouzi 77), Özil, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Subs: Cech, Elneny, Koscielny, Iwobi, Guendouzi, Kolasinac, Nketiah
Brighton: Ryan, Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Bernardo, Groß, Stephens, Bissouma, Jahanbakhsh (Knockaert 46), Murray (Andone 78), March
Subs: Bong, Kayal, Locadia, Andone, Knockaert, Burn, Button