Arsenal travel to the Amex Stadium for their clash with Brighton as Unai Emery’s men seek to keep pace with their their top-four rivals.
This time last season, as Brighton & Hove Alboin were playing their first top-flight season for the first time in 35 years, the Seagulls sat in 13th spot with only three points separating them and other relegation battlers. However, this time around, Brighton sit in a similar position in 12th but are 9 points away from the relegation zone, a cushion achieved due to their resurgent form in the past eleven games.
After winning five from eight matches, the Seagulls have recently lost three consecutive clashes to other teams. Those five wins have propelled them to a decent position on the table, and they can have a comfortable Christmas period considering they may not be thrown into the survival mix just yet. However, against Arsenal, they face a formidable side who are seeking their target to enter the top four.
Arsenal come into this game at the back of a hard-fought 3-1 victory over relegation-threatened Burnley. However, Unai Emery was the happiest of the managers from that clash as it effectively ended Arsenal’s recent slump of two consecutive defeats, which followed an incredible unbeaten run of 22 games in all competitions.
That win over Burnley, coupled with Chelsea’s loss to Leicester last weekend sent the Gunners level on points with their London rivals, although the Blues do have a superior goal difference which keeps them above the North Londoners. Arsenal will be hoping to continue their decent form away from home to keep pace with Chelsea and the rest of the top four.
Team News & Tactics
Chris Houghton will be happy with the return of Shane Duffy after the defender served his three-game ban. But Duffy’s return has coincided with the absence of his usual defensive partner, Lewis Dunk who will miss games due to his red card against Bournemouth last weekend. Balogun could continue his stay in the starting lineup due to Dunk’s suspension and will partner Duffy in central defence.
There is further good news for Houghton, as Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Jose Izquierdo are nearing returns from their respective injuries. However, the Arsenal game could be too soon for them to feature in the first team, but if they are adjudged to be fit, Houghton might make them part of his bench.
The manager is not expected to change his 4-5-1 style for the Arsenal game with the likes of Montoya and Bernardo as full-backs supporting the central defenders. March, Stephens, Propper, Bissouma, and Locadia are taking up the five midfield roles, with the returning Murray starting up front as the lone striker.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-5-1) – Ryan; Montoya, Balogun, Duffy, Bernardo; March, Stephens, Propper, Bissouma, Locadia; Murray
Arsenal, in recent weeks, have endured a torrid time on the injury front. In the build-up to the Brighton game, the biggest news is the injury to Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who is reported to be out for more than six weeks with a broken metatarsal. Joining him on the injury list from the last game would be Nacho Monreal who will be out for at least two more weeks.
Those two players join the likes of Shkodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin, leaving Arsenal paper thin in the defensive department. The injury to Monreal will make Emery consider changing the shape of his side, with a four-man defence likely in play. Alternatively, Emery could again deploy Granit Xhaka in central defence and retain a three-man defensive line with Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis, the other players in the position.
Mesut Ozil, after a masterclass performance against Burnley, will likely retain his place in the side as well as the Captaincy if Koscielny is absent. Joining him alongside the attack would be Premier League top-scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette as the front three. If Xhaka comes into midfield, then Emery could set up with a three-man unit with Guendouzi, Torreira, and Xhaka in it.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3) – Leno; Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Koscielny, Kolasinac; Xhaka, Torreira, Guendouzi; Ozil, Lacazette, Aubameyang
- Brighton have lost five of their last six games against the Gunners although did win the most recent game 2-1 at the Amex Stadium.
- Brighton have won each of their last three home games against Arsenal in the top-flight, after losing the first two such meetings.
- Arsenal have kept a clean sheet in six of their 10 games against Brighton in the top-flight.
- Arsenal have lost just one of their last 13 Premier League played games on Boxing Day (W10 D2)
- Arsenal have scored at least twice in all eight of their away Premier League games this season – they could become the first team to score 2+ goals in their first nine away games in a single top-flight campaign.
1. Arsenal to win @ 1.72
2. Both Teams to Score – YES @ 1.70
1. Over 14 Cards @ 9.00
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The German midfielder produced some eye-catching displays earlier this season but soon found himself somewhat out of favour in the wake of some clashes with Emery and his ideas. However, the manager reinstated Ozil into the side and also handed him the captain’s armband last weekend, and the German did produce a masterful performance.
Although its safe to assume Ozil will be in the starting lineup against Brighton, but his performance here will decide on the regularity of his future outings. A good performance against the Seagulls will not only silence his critics but also make sure he is a formidable part of the side.
Brighton 1-3 Arsenal
Brighton have forged a reputation for hurting some big teams on occasions. The Seagulls have sprung up a few surprises despite the odds stacked against them most of the time. Additionally, Brighton will also look to take advantage of Arsenal’s defensive crisis to ensure they get somewhere in the game, although its clear Arsenal are the favourites to win this clash.
Arsenal have the firepower to ensure they take all three points with the front three of Lacazette, Ozil and the league’s top scorer Aubameyang.
It’s not to say Arsenal are perfect as they are vulnerable in defence and Brighton will surely make something out of it. In the end, expect the Gunners to take all three points at the Amex Stadium and keep their charge towards the top four ongoing.