Saturday, February 4, 2023

Brighton preview: Injuries and form necessitate some changes

A home game against Brighton represents a good chance to get back on track after Monday’s disappointment against Crystal Palace, and after that result, the three points become even more important.

The key decisions today for Mikel Arteta are what he does without Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney. The obvious replacements are Albert Sambi Lokonga, who should come into midfield without much fuss. He was brought on in place of the Ghanaian at Selhurst Park and looked lively, so it’s almost a sure thing that he’ll get the nod today.

At left back though, it’s slightly more complicated given that Nuno Tavares was found wanting for two Palace goals, and taken off at half-time. On his previous start – against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup – he didn’t even make it to the break, so it’s not unreasonable to have some doubts. However, at his press conference yesterday, the manager spoke about the need for him to use challenging experiences like that as part of the development of his career:

Throughout your career you have to go through difficult moments, and he’s had some really good periods since he arrived at the club and he was playing many more minutes than he was probably expecting. That’s the life of a player, especially at that age.

And then, as much as Arteta ever does, suggested that he’d be given a chance today:

I spoke with Nuno because I care about how he feels. That was a decision that hurt him, obviously, but he understands that it was for the benefit of the team and he respects that. Now he needs to react to that situation because he has a great opportunity to learn a lot in that period of his career.

While I would fully understand some reluctance over Tavares, he was far from alone in being off the pace on Monday night, and there were others – some of them more senior – who couldn’t have complained if they’d been taken off at the break. I think we have to give him a chance today. We’ve already lost two players this week, and if you can’t trust Tavares against Brighton then there’s no way you can pick him for games against the likes of Chelsea, Man Utd and West Ham. Essentially you’ve then lost three players in one week, and with an already stretched squad, that’s too much. You’d render him unusable for the rest of the campaign and I don’t think we can afford to do that.

Further forward, we should have Nicolas Pepe back from illness to add a little depth to the bench which is very welcome, and then we wait and see whether or not there will be any change up front. If he starts today, surely Alexandre Lacazette is in the last-chance saloon. It’s unfortunate for him and for us, but he’s basically in the worst form of his entire Arsenal career at the worst possible time. We’ve never needed him more, but as a goalscorer he’s offering basically nothing, while in recent weeks the contribution he’s made as a kind of link-up man have dwindled enormously.

Personally, I’d be all in on Gabriel Martinelli up front today, just to do something different, because as Monday night showed, if you give the opposition centre-halves nothing to worry about, it becomes very difficult to score goals. The young Brazilian offers pace and movement that Lacazette doesn’t, and if you’re Brighton looking at the team sheet at 2pm you’d have to reconsider certain aspects of your own game-plan which have probably been made with the expectation that Lacazette will start.

I just think form is important, even in a small squad, and you can’t fail at a key part of your job week in, week out, and continue to get picked. It doesn’t matter how senior you are, it doesn’t matter if you’re the temporary captain, you have to earn your place in the team. If Laca does get the nod, I’d be quite happy to eat a giant slice of humble pie tomorrow if he finds his shooting boots again, but as I said, he has to give the team more than he has in recent weeks.

As for the opposition, they come into this in poor form, but we know they’re a decent side with some dangerous players. Arteta says:

They’re a team with a lot of personality, a coach that is very willing to play, that is very aggressive in the way they press, that wants to dominate the game and they have good players to do that but they are very difficult to beat. They don’t concede a lot of chances and opportunities in open play and also set pieces and they’re a threat.

Monday night showed us you can’t take anything for granted, and if we’re off the pace again today we’ll pay the price. Let’s hope that the game against Palace has been put to one side, and that we’re fully focused on the three points today because they are absolutely crucial in this top four race.

As ever, we’ll have live blog coverage of the game of you this afternoon, and all the post-game stuff on Arseblog News.

There’s a preview podcast ready for you right now over on Patreon too. Catch you later for the game. Come on you reds!

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