Soccer is an exhausting sport. As the season winds to a close, you can see it on the players’ faces and in their play, their bodies succumbing to the brutally long and demanding schedule.
For Arsenal fans, the exhaustion is of another, but equally noticeable, type. As the 2018-2019 Premier League draws to a close, there are many in the Gunner faithful who are ready for a merciful end to another seemingly disappointing season as a frustratingly poor final month has all but ended Arsenal’s chances of finishing in the top four. With three consecutive league defeats and four in the last five, Arsenal are seemingly out of energy and excuses.
And yet, with two matches left, Arsenal are still in position to make the last few weeks fruitful if they can summon whatever is left in their tanks to propel themselves over the finish line.
Thursday’s 3-1 win against Valencia in the Europa League saw a fight in Arsenal that was sorely lacking in the last month, when the Gunners lose four of five matches to mid table teams by a combined score line of 10-4. In those matches, a combination of questionable tactics, poor play, and a lack of fight were all to blame for a series of putrid performances, as Arsenal looked like a shell of the club that had been on a 22 match unbeaten run in the first half of the season.
With one final home match left and a slim chance of finishing in the top 4, do Arsenal have it in them to keep their top four hopes alive? At this rate, a coin flip would be as useful a predictor as any other measure, as Arsenal’s form has ebbed and flowed in unpredictable and bizarre patterns. Away wins at Napoli and Watford were departures from Arsenal’s typically awful away form, while a 3-2 loss to Crystal Palace at the Emirates ended a strong stretch of unbeaten matches at home.
On Sunday, the Gunners will welcome potential relegation candidates Brighton & Hove Albion to the Emirates for their last home match of the Premier League season. The first match against Brighton in December was a frustrating one for the Gunners. After scoring in the 7th minute, Arsenal looked hopeless in front of goal for the remainder of the match, and poor play from the defense allowed Brighton an easy equalizer in the first half. If that last sentence gave you a moment of deja vu, you are far from alone.
Brighton, who are currently 17th in the league and 4 points clear of the relegation zone, are without a win in their last 7 league matches. However, they have done an admirable job of frustrating some of the league’s top teams, as the Seagulls lost to both Manchester City and Tottenham with 1-0 scorelines while holding Wolverhampton to a 0-0 draw in recent weeks. Outside of a 5-0 thrashing by Bournemouth, Brighton have been a solid defensive team as of late, which is sure to be a point of concern for an Arsenal squad that has struggled to score in the league over the last month.
Arsenal are such an enigmatic squad that it is impossible to tell which Arsenal will turn up for this match. In their come-from-behind win against Valencia in the Europa League, the Gunners looked like they rediscovered their shooting boots after a stretch of dismal offensive performances. But as we all know, Arsenal are the antithesis of consistent.
The starting lineup on Sunday will be the final measure of where Unai Emery is placing his emphasis. After the 3-1 Europa League semifinal win against Valencia, the Gunners may need to go all in on the Europa League. Although Manchester United, Chelsea, and Tottenham have all been equally as inept as Arsenal at closing out a spot in the top 4, Arsenal could very well see Europa League success as their best chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
With only two matches left, there will be plenty left to discuss when all is said and done. With any luck, though, it will be from a Champions League qualifying position for the Gunners, and 3 points on Sunday will be one step closer to that goal.
WHAT: Arsenal vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
WHEN: Sunday, May 5th, 11:30am EST/8:30am PST/2:30pm BST
WHERE: The Emirates Stadium
HOW TO WATCH: NBCSports.com
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