Getty Images

LONDON -- The title race is done. But then you already knew it was long before kickoff in north London. What has been inevitable since Manchester City crushed Arsenal at the Etihad now requires mere mathematical confirmation. The champions-elect are not blowing a four-point lead, a supersized goal difference cushion and a game in hand.

The irony here being that if Arsenal had somehow made the most of a promising first half and clung on in the second, they might have reasonably believed that Brighton could have been one of the teams to do them one of the favors they needed. Roberto De Zerbi's side see no cause for fear in the Premier League's biggest beasts and have the tactical acuity to adjust their gameplan. Any team that can beat Arsenal 3-0 would surely have a chance of taking something from City.

So brutal was this defeat that Mikel Arteta found himself thrust into existential doubt over his players. "We fought really hard to be in the position we're in. Today was a critical moment to give hope and keep digging for that dream. When you play in this moment you cannot do what we did in the second half. We have to look. If the team is capable of doing that when it comes to the biggest stage there are a lot of things we have to analyse and think about. It cannot happen."

It did. That a group who have achieved so much ahead of schedule find their character questioned by their manager made for a cruel way to end a superb season. Arteta and his players will be subjected to the bad faith crowing of "bottling" a title charge that they and they alone put together. Since the Premier League resumed from its World Cup hiatus, City have reeled off 17 wins, two draws and two defeats from 21 top-flight games. Earlier on Sunday, Everton had defended manfully and posed all sorts of questions for the league leaders. They found themselves crushed 3-0 by City. Frankly, Arsenal did well to stay ahead of the steamroller for as long as they did. Everyone else has been out of the race since January at the latest.

Had Arsenal been able to defend as they did before the World Cup then they might have held on for just long enough. The loss of William Saliba has been profound; they have won fewer than half of their games since the Frenchman succumbed to a back issue. Without Oleksandr Zinchenko on Sunday, the Gunners lacked a controlling force in possession. Without Saliba for months, however, they have lacked the sweeper who can bail them out of the issues that must come with their commitment to playing the game so high up the pitch.

Still, this was a tale of Brighton's triumph as much as it was Arsenal's desolation. They are now well set for a first-ever season in Europe, the momentous decisions of their season vindicated emphatically. They had let Leandro Trossard walk to north London, his loose pass handed them the second goal that killed the game. Moises Caicedo had been kept against his will, he responded with a performance of the authority that Arsenal desperately needed in a second half where everything fell to pieces.

For the 50 minutes that proceeded Brighton's first gut punch, the game was played where Arsenal wanted it to be. Crucially they did not have all that much of the ball -- the 109 passes they completed in the first half 26 fewer than any Premier League game this season -- but they boxed the visitors into their defensive third, bringing nerves out of a team that embrace opposition pressure as much as any team in the Premier League.

Had Jason Steele's pass into midfield been an inch to the left, Granit Xhaka would have made it 1-0. Had Gabriel Jesus' low drive squirmed in at the near post then Jorginho would have been rewarded for picking Alexis MacAllister's pocket in a prime position. Had the thundering strike of Trossard, on early against his former club after Gabriel Martinelli was unable to shake off a nasty Moises Caicedo challenge, not taken a faint deflection then Steele may have been beaten. Shots were hardly raining down on the Steele goal, the title challengers seemed the most likely to break the deadlock.

Brighton, by contrast, only had one such nearly moment but it served as a herald of what was to come. Kaoru Mitoma got Ben White isolated, blew by him and crossed low, the ball flashing just behind Julio Enciso, who could only clip the ball over the bar. This contest would come to be defined by the battle down the Arsenal right. By the minute it swung Brighton's way. White has never had a game like this at right back. He was ripped to shreds. He was not alone in a woeful second half from the hosts.

"Today we have to apologize to our people, especially for the performance we had in the second half," said Arteta. "I have to digest what happened, individually look at what we have to do very differently in the next match."

It was another of the defensive errors that Arteta has so bemoaned in recent weeks that forged the path to Arsenal's downfall. Jakub Kiwior might be entitled to want a foul when Evan Ferguson clipped his ankle competing for Pervis Estupinan's initial delivery, which had come from Mitoma's bullying of White. Supporters might well bemoan VAR's non-intervention. But was Kiwior really incapable of continuing, leaving Julio Enciso entirely unguarded to flick into an empty net?

At last, Arsenal's season-long refusal to accept the gravitational laws of the Premier League ended. In that moment they and their supporters seemed to know that it was not happening. Only Reiss Nelson, coveted by Brighton for good reason, raged against the dying of the light.

The fight had gone out and so, when Trossard's attempted flick rebounded off a former teammate towards Deniz Undav, Gabriel Magalhaes could not quite bring himself to sprint back toward danger. Undav arced the ball high over Aaron Ramsdale. De Zerbi, who had delighted in how his side had infuriated Arsenal supporters, hurtled down the touchline. He might have wished to save that display of exuberance for the third, Estupinan turning in the rebound off Undav's shot.

It was a much crueler ending than Arsenal deserved for their performances since August. This magnificent Brighton side, though, merit moments like this. The Premier League's kingmakers is a title that suits them. It was the only crowning that north London will see between now and the end of the season.