May 5 (Reuters) - Arsenal will need an extraordinary turnaround on the final day of the Premier League season to finish in the top four after being held to a 1-1 draw by Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday.
Needing victory to give themselves a realistic chance of securing a Champions League spot, they led through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s early penalty at the Emirates only for Glenn Murray’s spot kick to drag Brighton level in a frantic second half.
The draw meant fifth-placed Arsenal ended the day four points behind Chelsea who had earlier beaten Watford to move third and three points behind stumbling Tottenham Hotspur.
While a win at Burnley and a loss for Tottenham at home to Everton would see the north London clubs finish level on points, Arsenal are eight worse off in terms of goal difference.
Arsenal have now managed to earn only one point from their last four league games — a run that has ultimately left them needing to win the Europa League to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
“We tried but we didn’t take our chance to be in the top four,” manager Unai Emery, whose side will take a 3-1 lead to Spanish club Valencia for their Europa League semi-final, second leg, next week told Sky Sports.
Despite their three-match losing sequence, Arsenal began the match with high hopes of catching Tottenham and Chelsea.
They were given the perfect start when referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot after Alireza Jahanbakhsh was adjudged to have impeded Nacho Monreal.
Aubameyang made no mistake with the penalty to notch up his 20th league goal of the season.
With Brighton already safe from relegation, thanks to Cardiff City’s defeat on Saturday, it should have been a relatively stress-free day for the Gunners.
But there was a nervousness about their play and Brighton grew into the game and caused several scares before halftime.
Brighton levelled in the 61st minute when the dangerous Solly March made a strong goalwards run and Granit Xhaka was panicked into conceding a penalty that Murray converted.
The striker has now scored 35 percent of Brighton’s Premier League goals since they were promoted in 2016-17.
Arsenal threw everything at Brighton in the closing stages but Brighton defended like tigers and could have taken the three points with several counter-attacks.
Aubameyang somehow fired wide for Arsenal while at the other end Pascal Gross should have scored for Brighton.
Arsenal’s players looked despondent at the final whistle and the crowd were silenced before breaking into cheers for injured Aaron Ramsey, who walked on to say goodbye before his move to Juventus at the end of the season.
Brighton have gone eight matches without a win and face title-chasing Manchester City next week, but have done just enough to book a third successive season with the elite.
“Our responsibility is to try and get a result in every game. It’s what we do, it’s our responsibility,” Brighton manager Chris Hughton said.
“We are lifted by today and we will want to do as well as we can against Manchester City next week.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Ken Ferris and Pritha Sarkar