Arsenal have a chance to build some momentum following the impressive win against the Hammers when they visit Brighton & Hove Albion for the 4th round of the FA Cup.
The hosts are managed by Gus Poyet – doubt many Arsenal fans like him but somehow I do – and he brings something different to their game. Instead of the usual lower-tier British club tactics we are likely to see a side that tries to play football.
Arsene Wenger had this to say about his next opponents,
They play out from the back, have a lot of possession and, of course, get that big South American influence from their manager. With the players they have and the way they play, I feel we face a typical away game in the Premier League.
If you look at their squad you’ll see plenty of Spanish players. In fact, I was amazed to see former Valencia man Vicente in their ranks. Injuries and age have probably diminished the impact he can make but his presence is solid evidence for the kind of game they like to and try to play. If he’s recovered from his latest injury, I expect the Spaniard will have a say in how this game shapes up.
Brighton are currently seventh in the Championship with the League’s second best defensive record and have conceded less than a goal a game at home. Poyet has tightened the team up this season and will be focussed on avoiding a repeat of last season’s embarrassing elimination at Anfield where his side scored 3 own goals in a 6-1 defeat.
One of their key defensive players is 23 year old midfielder Liam Bridcutt. According to Poyet he’s good enough to play for Real Madrid! We can understand a manager would want to boost his players confidence and might exaggerate his abilities but I was impressed by the manner in which he did that,
… he is the player who understands who needs help, when to cover and when to help a fullback or centre half. He is always in the right position. There are not many players who understand the game like Liam does.
That sounds like the next Makelele! That might be hyperbolic but I like the detail in his comments (the articles linked above have more). I must confess I haven’t seen him play a full game so it will be interesting to watch how the youngster performs. When Wilshere pushes up or if Arsene selects Rosicky as the central attacking midfielder we could get a fascinating duel to enjoy.
Brighton’s main goal threat is from their striker Craig Mackail-Smith. He has the ability to turn the defenders and can make space for himself. Others like Orlandi, Vicente, Buckley, and Barnes can also chip in. As mentioned earlier, the hosts don’t appear to be a one-dimensional attacking unit. They could ask genuine questions of the Arsenal defence if the Gunners sit back and allow them to build from the back. When given time, their players can pick through-balls and pack a punch from distance. We might also see some long diagonals to switch flanks with overlapping runs. It might actually be a bigger test for the defence than West Ham provided. Don’t forget, Cup ties played away from home are always that extra bit harder.
While they did beat Newcastle in the previous round, just like they’d done last year, it’s worth noting that Brighton have lost 5 of the 7 games played against teams above them in the Championship. Their record in those games is P7 W1 D1 L5 F2 A9. They also seem to have a curious record month wise. The Seagulls were winless in October, unbeaten in November, again winless in December, and are yet to lose this year in January. Let’s hope Arsenal can buck the trend and hand them a defeat on Saturday.
Wenger tends to play a fairly strong team even in the early rounds of the FA Cup. I don’t expect too many changes but a couple of players could do with some rest.
In my opinion, either Sagna or Gibbs should get a breather. In the midfield Cazorla could take a break. Up front, this might be a good game for Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right.
It’s difficult to guess what Wenger will go with but I’d like to see,
Szczesny – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Ramsey, Rosicky, Wilshere – AOC, Giroud, Podolski.
Rosicky might not be match fit, in which case Yennaris could come into the midfield with Wilshere pushing up. I don’t see the point in risking Diaby. Santos is another one who might not be match fit.
It might be worth substituting Wilshere around the hour mark if the game goes to plan. Same goes for Gibbs.
As I’d said when analyzing the defeat against Bradford, if you gift goals in such games you make your life infinitely harder. Be a Gooner, Be a Giver is a strictly off-pitch mantra. But it’s easier said than done. I think this will be an entertaining game from a football point of view. Whether it’s a frustrating one or an enjoyable one from an emotional perspective will probably depend on the kind of confidence that Arsenal can show from the start.Follow @goonerdesi