It’s all well and good that we beat Chelsea at the weekend, but that game is over and done with and it will mean next to nothing if we can’t follow it up.
We all got a bit ahead of ourselves earlier this season after winning at Old Trafford. We said things like “this will kick start our season” and “now just watch us fly.”
I watched us fly…. right into the nearest wind turbine. It turned out we followed up that solid victory against a traditionally ‘top six’ side with a run that brought us only two points out of a possible 21 in our next seven league games. We were properly mangled.
So tonight we need to see a performance that is every bit as committed, energetic and dynamic as the one against Chelsea. Most of all, we are going to need to take some fight to the seaside, because Brighton will be giving us nothing for free.
After Brighton we have games against West Brom and Crystal Palace: so that’s three fixtures from which an Arsenal team would normally expect to take at least seven points and possibly all nine.
But we have struggled against so-called “lower” teams this year. We scraped a fortunate win against Sheffield United, we lost to Wolves and Burnley and were second best in a draw with Southampton.
One reason has been our inability to break down teams who park the bus against us (by the way, how come no-one ever uses the phrase ‘park the bus’ any more? It’s low block this, low block that, when any fool can see that it’s just the same old tactic of sticking a Routemaster in front of the goal and hoping for the best. Perhaps we can compromise, swap the Routemaster for a single-decker and call it “the low bus”).
Chelsea played us with the intention of dominating the game, so we were not faced with the usual 11 men behind the ball scenario and, accordingly, we were able to play more fluid football.
We can’t expect the same approach from Brighton, but there are still grounds for optimism. The introduction of Martinelli and Smith Rowe against the Chavs, with Saka as the right wing back, massively improved the way we played.
Those three linked well with each other and with our fullbacks and also with Lacazette in front of them and Xhaka behind (who was more advanced than usual because he knew Elneny was guarding the back door).
Our full backs got to the byline more instead of having to cross from short of the opposition penalty area and Smith Rowe proved a very effective fulcrum for our attacking moves and worked well with Lacazette, who had a good all round game.
We have seen the likes of Willian, Pepe and Aubameyang used in most league games this season and they do not seem to have the right skillset to break down double ranks of defenders.
Which brings us to the question of team selection. Gabriel is out with a positive Covid test; Partey is still on the way back from injury and Luiz and Willian are both unavailable until January 31st for mysterious reasons.
The one important player who did not start against Chelsea but who is available tonight is the captain, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. He was on the bench on Saturday, presumably being protected as he recovered from a calf strain, and you would imagine he will start against Brighton.
I don’t envy Mikel Arteta having to make that call. If it was down to me I would go with exactly the same eleven who started in West London. They have earned the chance to do it all over again and, frankly, Martinelli is better suited to taking on the “low bus” than Auba is. But Aubameyang is the biggest star in the team and also the captain, so it’s highly unlikely he’ll be left out.
One option would be to play him centrally instead of Lacazette, but that role really does not suit him and, in any case, Lacazette deserves to keep his place.
Here’s the line-up I expect Arteta to go for:
Bellerin – Holding – Mari – Tierney
Xhaka – Elneny
Saka – Smith Rowe – Aubameyang
Martinelli to be kept to the bench (officially on the grounds that he needs to be eased back in carefully after his long injury, but really so that Auba can be played).
If I’m right it will be a shame, because I cannot wait to see that wonderful partnership between Tierney and Martinelli working its magic down our left flank again.
Whatever team we put out, let’s all hope they can build on that Chelsea win with another solid three points. It’s time to really watch us fly, this time with added turbine-avoidance.
If we get a decent run going, who knows what this season could yet hold for us?
Come on You Gunners.