Brighton v Arsenal
The American Express Community Stadium
Kick off: January 25, 2015 4.00 PM BST
Two years ago Arsenal paid their last visit to Brighton. In a match full of ups and downs Arsenal managed to win the game thanks to Theo Walcott’s deflected shot in the last minutes of the game. It was a match that I had described back then as “another medical test for our ticky-tickers”. We faced a very resilient side that had returned to the game twice after Giroud’s goals but the third goal was too much for them. We didn’t close down their crosses well which resulted with two headers into our net. Our left side was heavily exploited as Andre Santos started the game and gave a horror-performance (I gave him 2 out of 10). Despite Santos’ presence on the pitch, we managed to win the game. This time round it’s certainly a must watch match and I would recommend you book your tickets and see Arsenal live.
It might be a bizarre coincidence that we haven’t played a match in FA Cup outside of London after that game and that our first away game will take place in Brighton, almost on the same date. After we had suffered a shocking exit to Blackburn at home (0:1) we have won seven matches in a row – all of them in London: Spuds (2:0), Coventry (4:0), Liverpool (2:1), Everton (4:1), Wigan (1:1, 4:2 on penalties), Hull (2:2, 3:2 after extra-time) and Hull again (2:0) respectively. Our victorious run should continue as we face a very different Brighton side than the one that gave us a hard time in 2013. Back then, they had been favourites for a promotion to Premiership. Now, they are just six points above the relegation zone in Championship. That means there is a gap of 34 places between the two teams as we lie on the fifth place in Premiership.
If I were in charge of Arsenal, I would go for a rotation against Brighton.
David Ospina would keep his place between the sticks though. He hasn’t conceded for almost 300 minutes and out of three goals he has conceded this season, two of them came from the penalty spot.
With Hector Bellerin facing a late fitness test and Mathieu Debuchy out for three months, Calum Chambers should start on the right side of the defence.
Kieran Gibbs should return instead of Nacho Monreal on the left side.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are unlikely to get any rest again unless Arsene Wenger decides to put Nacho Monreal next to either Mertesacker or Koscielny.
Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky would replace Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey in the middle of the pitch. Ramsey has had too many injuries this season and a rest in a relatively easy fixture wouldn’t harm him. Coquelin has played a lot lately and given that he has become a key player in our team, it would be wise to keep him fresh for the game against Aston Villa in the league next week.
Mesut Özil is set for his first start since the return and the German will take over from Santi Cazorla who has been our best player lately.
Theo Walcott will get a start on the right wing – especially given that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has to face a late fitness test – and it might be a good opportunity for him to score his first goal of the season.
Joel Campbell should get a chance on the left flank so Alexis Sánchez gets a breather. The Costa Rican needs some confidence and the opponents like Brighton should help him in that.
Chuba Akpom’s position has suddenly improved after Lukas Podolski’s and Yaya Sanogo’s departures on loan. The youngster might get a chance to show his skills from the first minute as Olivier Giroud – who is the only real No. 9 in our team – should start on the bench. Risking Giroud’s injury in a match that we should win with our second string wouldn’t be wise.
So, if Nigel Summerburn were the manager, Arsenal starting eleven against Brighton would have been:
Chambers Mertesacker (c) Monreal Gibbs
Walcott Akpom Campbell
Of course, I’m not Arsene Wenger and there are strong reasons why he shouldn’t go for a heavy rotation.
Firstly, it’s not like we have had a busy schedule lately. We didn’t have a mid-week game and we are not going to play a mid-week game next week. That means there is no need for a big rotation.
Secondly, “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”. Arsene Wenger is usually reluctant to change the team that wins. We have won three on the trot and changing pretty much the whole team might not be the best idea.
Thirdly, losing against Brighton with our second string would increase the media and fan pressure on Wenger. What is even more important, we would lose not only the winning rhytm but also the confidence of our squad players as losing to the Championship side would hurt them seriously.
Finally, FA Cup represents the most realistic chance for another piece of silverware this season. If we want to win Champions’ League, we’ll have to beat Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern and/or Chelsea at some point. If we want to win the league, we’ll have to We have already won a trophy this season – Community Shield – but retaining FA Cup would be a great thing and a big consolation for the absence of the title challenge.
So, it’s more likely that we are going to see some rotation against Brighton.
Ospina will start between the sticks.
Chambers will take over from Bellerin.
Mertesacker and Koscielny to play in the heart of the defence.
Monreal might get a rest with Gibbs taking his place.
Coquelin and Ramsey to run the show from the midfield.
Özil to provide fireworks in the final third with some perfect passes for pacey Walcott and Alexis.
Walcott to start down the right flank and to score his first goal after that goal against Cardiff on the first day of 2014.
Alexis to start on the left, at least until we secure a victory. I think that most of the Gooners worldwide would vote for “Özil’s through balls for Alexis” as their biggest sexual fantasy ever since Alexis joined us.
Giroud to lead the attack with a solid possibility for Chuba Akpom to get some playing time at some point of the match.
A few words about the opponents… They have some experienced players like Aaron Hughes, David Stockdale and Leon Best but they shouldn’t represent a problem for us if we give a professional approach from the beginning. As usual, the opponents from Championship will go like there is no tomorrow against us and will do anything to beat the favourites. That’s why any thought of complacency is strictly forbidden. It’s going to be a strong 3:0 victory with goals from Walcott, Özil and Giroud to complete our eighth consecutive victory in the competition.
Chambers Mertesacker (c) Koscielny Gibbs
Walcott Giroud Alexis
Brighton & Hove Albion 0 v 3 Arsenal