Welcome to another match day folks and this, I have to say, has always been a frustrating one for me. Brighton and Hove Albion entertain us at 6pm on their turf and it’s been quite an unhappy hunting ground for us recently. Last season they shafted us in the last minute with a sucker punch goal. At The Emirates they bagged a victory against us, then the season before that they got a draw at The Emirates courtesy of a stupid Xhaka penalty concession and our inability to finish them off. Before that there was also a win at home for them which takes the tally to three defeats and two draws in our last five matches against them.
They have certainly become a bogey team for us but this is where it is frustrating for me; I have never really felt like Brighton have been any good against us. The smash and grab they got during Project Restart was a lot of us with the ball and them hitting us on the counter and after Maupay practically ended Leno’s season with his actions, the whole game left a bad taste in the mouth.
So my hope for today is that we get an Arsenal side with some renewed vigour and confidence as a result of the excellent result on Boxing Day against Chelski. We need to build on that win because in isolation whilst it was great, it will be for nought if we see another insipid performance from Arsenal this evening, so what I want to see is more of the same intensity that we saw from the side just a few days ago.
And for me that means little change to the starting XI. Perhaps bring in Ceballos for the woeful Mo Elneny, but even that doesn’t feel like an improvement, more of a sideways move for a player who has been poor again this season.
The defence will comprise of Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Pablo Mari and Tierney and I think that’s fair enough after the display against the Chavs, plus we’ll most likely see Xhaka get the nod again. But what I really hope Arteta doesn’t tinker with too much is our forward line. Martinelli, Smith-Rowe and Saka must all start. The Brazilian and double-barrelled Englishman were taken off just after the hour mark to preserve them having both not played very much, so they should be fighting fit and ready to have a go today. Which is why I am hoping to see all three today.
I also hope we can surround Aubameyang with pace. If we do that, we might get the best from him and that means goals and conversions of chances. We need to see the Auba of last season if we are going to turn this one around and if he has runners either side of him then we might just see the player with whom we invested so much in the summer by extending his contract.
Brighton will be tough though. They’ve already got the hoodoo on us as I mentioned, but Graham Potter will also fancy his sides chances having given West Ham a good game a couple of days ago. Tariq Lamptey is apparently out today with a hamstring injury and that is good news for us because he is a very good full back that provides issues for teams with his attacking intent. In Adam Lallana they have a guy in the middle of the park who can dictate play for them, but he too is potentially out, having hobbled off against West Ham.
Of course the one player we all know is going to score today will be Danny Welbeck, who returns to face us and will suddenly be the reincarnation of Marco van Basten tonight, we all know. They will also have Neil Maupay starting tonight and I hope there are a few Arsenal players out there who have memories of his sly action against Leno and want to – in a legal way – show him that stuff is still in the memories.
Brighton will want to control possession and they’ll try to hit us on that right hand side, even with Lamptey, so we’ll need to be ready for it and I hope we can create space and runners to find those pockets when the ball turns over, because that’s where I think we can have some joy.
But the hope has to be that we can create as many good chances as we did against Chelski because if we do then we’ve got the chance to get all three points. And it’s a nice feeling thinking about a football game and not facing absolute dread. Of course come 8pm it could all feel different but it’s good to get a little bit excited ahead of a football game.
Here’s hoping to a second three points in the space of a week. Up the Arsenal.