Arsenal travel to Brighton for their Boxing Day encounter with a strong side set to feature, including Mesut Ozil and Granit Xhaka.
Arsenal have a tricky test ahead of them on Boxing Day as they visit the Amex Stadium to take on Brighton. Courtesy of their 3-1 win over Burnley last weekend, the Gunners sit level on points with Chelsea, but a place below the Blues due to goal difference. Unai Emery will be looking to get all three points in this away fixture to keep the pressure on their London rivals.
However, Arsenal come into this game with plenty of missing personnel in defence, with Nacho Monreal the latest player to be sidelined. The Spaniard joins compatriot Hector Bellerin, and central defenders Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding, who is out for the season. However, Emery will dig into his squad’s depth to fill in those positions.
Bernd Leno will play in goal, leaving Petr Cech on the bench. Bellerin’s absence has opened the door for Stephan Lichtsteiner and Ainsley Maitland-Niles to stake claim for the right-back slot, although it will be the versatile English midfielder who should play there after impressing against Burnley last weekend.
Monreal’s injury won’t worry Emery too much just yet, for Sead Kolasinac is in a rich vein of form at left-back and will undoubtedly keep his place. The central defence, however, presents big issues for Emery as he will likely make a last minute decision on the players he chooses to play there, which subsequently will decide the overall shape of the team.
With Laurent Koscielny being rested against Burnley, it is likely that the Frenchman will partner Sokratis at the heart of the Arsenal defence. But, if Emery decides on a three-man central defensive unit, then Granit Xhaka could be drafted in. However, it does look like a back four will start, meaning Xhaka will take his customary place in central midfield.
In midfield, the big source of concern for Emery would be Lucas Torreira, with the midfielder just a booking away from a mandatory one-match suspension. It is clear if the Uruguayan is to pick a yellow against Brighton, he will miss the crunch clash against Liverpool at Anfield before the year comes to a close. Emery, however, was optimistic about this issue, when speaking ahead of the match.
“I don’t know if Torreira can even play cautiously, but I don’t want him to think about the possibility of a suspension against Liverpool for one yellow card. I don’t want him to think about that.”
As iterated earlier, Xhaka should return to midfield, and Emery’s comments suggest Torreira could start as well. The midfield trio should be completed by Matteo Guendouzi, although Emery does have an option there with Aaron Ramsey. Ramsey though, might be preserved for the Liverpool game.
Finally, in attack, Arsenal were dealt a bitter blow after Henrikh Mkhitaryan was ruled out for more than six weeks with a foot injury, meaning the Armenian will be missed for the festive period and well beyond January. He joins Danny Welbeck, who is already out for the season, reducing the number of players to play on the right side of attack, with Mesut Ozil the only viable option.
Joining Ozil as part of a three-man forward line will be Premier League top-scorer, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left side of attack, while Alexandre Lacazette will take his position as Arsenal’s central striker.