Arsenal are eyeing a place in the UEFA Conference League as they finish their 2020/21 Premier League campaign by welcoming Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday.
Arsenal’s run of qualifying for European football for 25 consecutive years remains one of the most impressive ongoing records in the Premier League at the moment. That record could be on the line, though when the north London outfit take on Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday, in their final match of the 2020/21 campaign.
Standing at ninth in the league table, it has been a dismal campaign for Mikel Arteta’s men, who have also underperformed in both FA Cups and Carabao Cup before being knocked out of the UEFA Europa League by former manager Unai Emery, earlier this month.
The Gunners, though, still have an opportunity to seal European football – more precisely in the newly introduced UEFA Conference League. In order to qualify, they must secure all three points this weekend and hope both Tottenham Hotspur and Everton drop points in their respective games against Leicester City and Manchester City.
As far as Brighton themselves are concerned, they do not really have too much to play for, having secured their top-flight status a while back. The Seagulls, though, are keen on ending their campaign on a strong note, which was evident in the magnificent win over champions Manchester City this midweek.
Arsenal, though, are currently one of the most in-form teams in the division, having secured four back to back wins in the league. It might still be not enough to help them secure European football next season, and here, at the Hard Tackle, we will take a closer at these two sides ahead of their crucial encounter at the Emirates this weekend.
Team News & Tactics
Arsenal will have to make some very important tactical decisions in this must-win encounter, and although we largely expect him to continue with the 4-2-3-1, there could certain tweaks in this setup.
Calum Chambers and Kieran Tierney, in particular, are going to play versatile roles in the fullback position. Chambers is set to remain deep, helping out the two centre-backs in Gabriel Magalhaes and Rob Holding, while Kieran Tierney should be given the license to roam forward with the ball.
It could make the 4-2-3-1 turn into a three-man backline during the attacking phases, with Bukayo Saka operating as the right-sided wingback. The Englishman’s ability to drop back could be useful in helping Arsenal combat Brighton’s 3-4-3 setup that creates numerical superiority for the Seagulls during pressing situations.
In general, though, Saka should partner Emile Smith Rowe and Nicolas Pepe as part of the creative trifecta. Arteta, though, could be tempted to call up Martin Odegaard as a second-half substitute, following an impressive cameo appearance off the bench against Crystal Palace.
These three will primarily look to create chances for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the lone centre forward for Arsenal. The Gabonese international, though, is not expected to operate as a target man. Instead, he will make movements that will destabilise the Brighton backline, allowing Pepe to make useful runs in behind.
The onus on providing those balls in behind the back, though, will be on the midfield combo of Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey. These two will also play a vital role in creating turnovers and winning loose balls in the middle of the park – things that are essential in Mikel Arteta’s style of football.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Leno; Chambers, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney; Partey, Xhaka; Saka, Smith Rowe, Pepe; Aubameyang
Brighton & Hove Albion
Graham Potter is facing some major issues in regards to team selection, as Danny Welbeck became the latest player to join the likes of Joel Veltman, Davy Propper, Solly March, Tariq Lamptey on the sidelines, while Neal Maupay is unavailable due to suspension.
It could force the Brighton manager to try out some of his lesser-used options, especially in the attacking department. While Leandro Trossard is a guaranteed starter, he might be partnered by Alexis Mac Allister, although Andy Zekiri is another option up top.
Pascal Gross has had a lot of success operating in the central midfield, while Alireza Jahanbaksh has been favoured heavily by Potter in recent weeks. They are both capable of offering creative support in the team, with the former being particularly proficient from set-pieces.
We expect Jahanbaksh to once again operate in a wide attacking role, with Gross partnering Yves Bissouma and Adam Lallana in the second line of press. It will be interesting to see how they cope with the Arsenal midfielder and prevent the opposition from dominating the game in the middle of the park.
Meanwhile, in the defensive unit, Brighton will be boosted by the return of captain Lewis Dunk from suspension. He should slot right back into the three-man backline, accompanying Ben White and Adam Webster, while Dan Burk might shift into a wingback role, at the expense of Jakub Moder.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Sanchez; White, Dunk, Webster; Jahanbaksh, Gross, Bissouma, Lallana, Burn; Mac Allister, Trossard
1. Arsenal Clean Sheet – NO @ 1.44
1. Brighton to win @ 5.00
- Arsenal are looking to complete their first league double over Brighton since the 1980/81 campaign. Indeed, the Gunners have won just two of their seven meetings with Brighton since the Seagulls were promoted to the Premier League.
- Brighton won this exact fixture 2-1 last season, their first ever top-flight away win against Arsenal.
- Arsenal haven’t lost their final league game of the season since 2004/05 and have won each of their last nine games to end a Premier League campaign.
- When finishing a Premier League season at home, Arsenal have won each of their last 11 matches, with their last defeat coming in 1992/23 at the hands of Tottenham.
- Brighton have won their final league game in just one of the last six campaigns, though that did come at Burnley last season.
Player to Watch
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is certainly the one to keep an eye on, as the Arsenal forward looks to end the campaign on a positive note, after struggling with lack of form for the majority of the season. He has found the back of the net only ten times in 26 matches, which is certainly unacceptable for a player of his calibre.
Aubameyang’s failures in settling in under Mikel Arteta might even see him leaving Emirates this summer, meaning this could potentially be his last match for the Gunners, even though the event of his departure might be a bit far fetched at the moment.
The striker nevertheless has a point to prove, and certainly needs to improve his game, knowing there is a significant chance of him falling down the pecking order at Emirates next season.
Arsenal 1-1 Brighton & Hove Albion
Arsenal are the undisputed favourites heading into this game, having secured four back to back wins in the Premier League. However, momentum is never a tactic in football, up against a Brighton side, boasting significant firepower on the counter, coupled with a strong defensive unit strengthened by the return of Dunk.
It could make life difficult for the Gunners, especially when it comes to creating goalscoring opportunities in the final third. They do not have the best of creative units in the league, so the Hard Tackle expects a cagey 1-1 draw at Emirates this weekend.