Brighton have been a right pain in the arse since they were promoted to the Premier League a few years back.
Since beating them 2-0 at the Emirates in October 2017 – the goals scored by Nacho Monreal and Alex Iwobi – we’ve gone five games without a win against the Seagulls. They’ve won 2-1 on three occasions and the other two games were drawn 1-1. It’s a run that spans four Arsenal managers!
Our last trip to the AMEX in June was particularly traumatic. In our second game back post-lockdown, we lost Bernd Leno to injury after Neal Maupay’s snide challenge and despite leading with 15 minutes to go, somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in stoppage time. As if that wasn’t enough, Guendouzi indulged in some very unnecessary handbags at the final whistle – he’s been in exile ever since – and the evil architect of the defeat, Maupay, made headlines claiming, “Arsenal’s players need to learn humility”. It was not a good day at the office.
To be fair to Mikel Arteta, he got things back on track pretty quickly – we won four games on the spin after that – but he and the players know they can’t afford to underestimate Brighton again, especially as we look to build some momentum off the back of our much-needed three points against Fat Frank’s Chelsea.
As Granit Xhaka said after the Boxing Day victory:
“It was very important that we got three points but we have to continue like this. The next two games away are very difficult but if we work together like a team we have the chance to take away all six points.”
It’s easier said than done. We’ve not actually managed consecutive victories in the league since beating Fulham and West Ham in the opening week of the season.
Can we use the performance against Chelsea a blueprint? Arteta believes so.
“I’ve seen a lot of things that I really like from the start. And one of them is the courage that we had to play, the energy that we showed and how aggressive we were without the ball.
“And the energy that the team was transmitting in a football match, and we were very direct, we were playing forward, we were really attacking and there was a lot of movement, the right spaces were always occupied, we were a threat in behind.”
Much of what was good started with the attitude and application of the players who were called up late in the day. It looks like a similar squad will head to the south coast.
Arsenal confirmed last night that David Luiz and Willian are training away from the main group as they recover from illness. They won’t be available tonight but will be in contention for the clash with West Bromwich Albion on 2nd January.
Unfortunately, Gabriel, who was self-isolating after a family member contracted Covid-19, has now tested positive for the virus and will sit out a further two games. That means Pablo Mari will likely retain his place alongside Rob Holding in the centre of defence. They’ll have the job of shackling Maupay and also ex-Gunner Danny Welbeck who moved to Brighton in the summer from Watford and has a couple of goals to his name.
Thomas Partey is back in training and being assessed on a daily basis but the medical team still haven’t put a date on his return. Given the way his thigh reacted at Sp*rs it’s probably wise that they are being cautious. We can expect Granit Xhaka plus either Mo Elneny or Dani Ceballos to anchor the midfield tonight.
In attack, Arteta has to choose four from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alex Lacazette, Pepe, Gabriel Martinelli, Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson (conspicuous by his absence recently) and Folarin Balogun.
We’d all love to see Arteta stick with the enthusiasm of Martinelli and Smith Rowe but I think Laca’s impressive last outing and the return to fitness of our captain means at least one of the youngsters will be sacrificed; quite possibly both. While that wouldn’t be the most popular decision, the boss could justify it by pointing to the busy schedule and the fact the pair have only recently returned from their own injury issues.
Trying to second-guess Arteta, I reckon Martinelli will make way on this occasion with Smith Rowe given another chance at number 10. The positive thing is that we have lots of options. For Arteta, it’s cause for optimism.
“I think there’s a message within the squad that everybody’s important here, everybody’s here to contribute, and everybody’s useful.
“It doesn’t matter if you are young or a senior player, everybody’s here to contribute.
“And I think it’s a great message for everybody that when we have to rely on them, we know that we can rely on them and we don’t have any doubts about them.”
According to the form guide, this is a clash between the 18th and 19th worst sides in the Premier League over the last six games; only Sheffield United, who haven’t won all season, are more of a basket case. While Brighton have earned praise for their progressive possession-based football under Graham Potter, they’ve found wins hard to come by. They come into the match off the back of three consecutive draws – the last 48 hours ago at West Ham – but they only have one home win in 16 league games in 2020. Before you get too excited, yep, that was against us.
I’m expecting another nervy night in front of the TV. If we can scrape three points, the gap on the sides above us in the table won’t look too intimidating. At the time of writing, only 10 points separate Arsenal from fourth-placed Manchester United. Given how bad we’ve been for the last two months, that’s pretty incredible.
Come on you Gunners!
Blogs will back later with a live blog and if anything happens between now and kick-off, we’ll cover it on Arseblog News. Enjoy the rest of your leftover turkey. 👍