As Arsenal warm up and prepare for their second match in three days, an early taste of this compact schedule, there is a must-win aura in the air. While many can understand the Gunners for not getting points from their opening match against second place Manchester City, expectations have been raised exponentially for the second leg against Brighton.
Last time out, Brighton pressed and pressured a sloppy Arsenal side and took advantage of a team under the new management of Freddie Ljungerberg. Arsenal fans witnessed an Arsenal team come out swinging with a high press and impressive workrate but efforts that were relatively sporadic and only mildly effective. Brighton’s midfield took full advantage of this lack of chemistry and pinched the ball in a lot of bad places putting Arsenal in trouble.
In the end, Arsenal’s lack of defensive consistency and ability to clear their lines led to a Brighton goal off a corner kick, turned scramble in the box and a second goal off a whipped in cross and header that beat Luiz and Leno.
Arsenal will see a very different side and identity given Mikel Arteta is at the helm but Arteta’s options to select from are interesting. Tons of options to choose from for this front 3, but almost none choose from for the backline. With Chambers and Sokratis hurt, Luiz suspended, and Mari out for the season – Arteta finds himself choosing between Mustafi, Holding, youth players, or an ad hoc selection of Tierney at center back and Saka at left back. By all guesses, this will be a big day for Rob Holding to stake his claim.
In the midfield, Arteta has a few more options but the injuries to both Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreria, leave Arsenal without a clear defensive midfielder. Some will be calling for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to take up the baton and anchor the back, while others are looking for the Gunners to pressure, possess, and dominate Brighton on the backs of a Guendouzi-Ceballos double pivot. Finally, we can only speculate at this point what Arteta intends to do with this third midfielder. Is Ozil fit and ready? We heard Arteta talk a little bit about Ozil and the “tactical reasons” he was not played in the opener.
The entire midfield was suppressed and overrun in their match against City, but not quite like Willock who managed very little with his time. Wllock struggled to find space to get on the ball and his movement off the ball to work into spaces was ineffective. Arsenal found themselves looking to skip the midfield completely to try and find the wings and bypass City’s pressure. In a game where Arsenal will hope to see a considerable amount more of the ball but are missing their normal anchor, will Arteta look to young Joe Willock and more of a 4-3-3 midfield or return to his veteran playmaker Ozil in the usual 4-2-3-1?
Up top, the options are aplenty and enough to give anyone a headache trying to get everyone in. Aubameyang, Lacazette, and Pepe bring star power but Martinelli and Saka demand attention to cater to their growth into stars. Nketiah has been pushing Lacazette for time given Lacazette’s inability to produce an end product, while Reiss Nelson offers a more rigid, two-way winger that will assist in the midfield. Last time out we saw Aubameyang, Nketiah, and Saka across the top with only Eddie Nketiah offering any semblance of decent play.
It’s a big game for Arenal if they have any intention of putting pressure on a top 5 finish. After yesterday’s 1-1 draw between Tottenham and Manchester United, Arsenal have the opportunity to gain 2 points on the pair and find themselves ahead of Spurs and 3 points off of 4th.
There are two ways Arteta could approach this game given the compact schedule. He could look to a fairly unchanged side given the 5 day break before Southampton next week or he could put out a drastically different eleven to preserve legs now.
In the end, I believe he will look to make more changes against Southampton than he will today resulting in a different but similar lineup.
My guess: Leno, Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Tierney, Guendouzi, Ceballos, Willock, Aubameyang, Lacazette, Pepe
It would be a strong line up on paper, but there are a plethora of reasons this lineup could be VERY wrong.
Arsenal will again look to transition quickly and use the pace of their wings to make plays while getting Tierney involved down the left channel after his impressive display against City. He proved himself fully capable of being a strong defensive player with a high level of technical ability and game IQ to get up into the attack at the right moments. He was strong with the ball at his feet but will look to turn it into attacking chances today, unlike their last time out.
Result: 3-1 Arsenal? Optimistic, but what do Gunners have if they don’t have optimism.
Big day for Arsenal if they want to keep their hopes alive and have something to play for with the remaining league games.