We knew the international break was key for Arsenal. Players returning from injury, late transfer window additions, and a more favorable schedule followed. Few can clearly articulate the details of Mikel Arteta’s project, but if the past few weeks have been any indication, the club has made meaningful steps forward. Positive results in the league and Carabao Cup had optimism rising, but the manner of the North London Derby victory and performance have Arsenal and its supporters believing that this squad has turned a corner.
Meanwhile, raise your hand if you had Brighton tied for second after six rounds in the 2021-22 Premier League season? There should be no hands in the air at this point because no one saw this fantastic start from the Seagulls coming. Add in a pair of League Cup wins and Brighton have started the season with six wins, one draw, and one loss from their opening eight matches. After late drama on Monday night, Brighton will welcome the chance to top Arsenal at the American Express Community Stadium and prove their quick start is well deserved.
In this week’s Q&A we spoke with Scott from the We Are Brighton website which has covered the Seagulls since 2009 to get a sense of season expectations, the summer transfer window, their incredible start to the season, and a prediction for Saturday’s match.
TSF: Last season having finished 16th how confident were you that the club would make the right moves in the summer transfer window in order to keep Brighton out of a relegation fight this season?
WAB: Not very if we are being honest! The world and his wife knew that what Brighton needed was a clinical striker who could turn our fabled xG into actual goals and points. The Albion have been crying out for that same signing pretty much since we got promoted four years ago and yet never made it.
Even with the Ben White money coming, a new centre forward and the associated costs looked to be out of our price range. That has proven to be the case and most Albion fans as a result were predicting a season of struggle, whereas Graham Potter talked about getting more goals out of his existing options.
Given the start we have made, it seems Potter might have been right - which is why he is a highly paid football manager and I am answering these questions whilst drinking a can of Strongbow Dark Fruits.
TSF: Obviously, the key departure in terms of this match-up is Ben White. I’m sure you were thrilled at the price tag, but did you expect him to leave during this last window and how has the club addressed filling his place?
WAB: As soon as he became an England international, it seemed likely he would go and that also whacked the price up. It was one of those deals which I think has worked out well for all parties. We get £50 million in the bank, White moves to a bigger club where he can earn further international recognition, and Arsenal get a defender who has the potential to get even better than he already is, offering great resale value if a Manchester City become interested down the line.
Another reason that Brighton fans were so non-plussed about White’s departure is that we still have Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster, who are more important to the Albion than White was. Easily the best thing about that inflated fee is that the club have not had to spend a penny on a replacement.
Instead, Shane Duffy has returned from a nightmare year at Celtic looking like a completely different player. Brighton also have Joel Veltman, an incredibly underrated defender whom we picked up for £900,000 from Ajax in one of the bargains of last summer. We are well stocked for quality defenders, even after losing White.
TSF: It’s been an incredibly busy summer for Brighton across players bought & sold, as well as loans coming & going. How would you grade their overall transfer window?
WAB: When the window closed, it was a 5/10 for me. The numerous positives - clearing £10 million off the wage bill in deadwood, keeping Yves Bissouma, adding pace and width that we desperately needed in Marc Cucurella - were outweighed by the fact that we did not get that striker we needed.
As I said, it is not working out too badly yet. Brighton though are two injuries and a suspension to Neal Maupay, Danny Welbeck and Aaron Connolly away from having to find a way to win without a senior centre forward. Fingers crossed the gamble of attempting to get through to at least January with only three strikers pays off.
TSF: Nearly topping the league after this match week, did you have any expectation that Brighton would get off to such an incredible start? Or when you saw that the season started with Burnley, Watford, Everton, Brentford, Leicester, & Palace, did you think there was a real chance there to quickly just start their point total this season?
WAB: The only people who would have predicted this start would have been those on some seriously strong narcotics. Brighton last season failed to beat any of the bottom four and our only wins over anyone from 12th place down came against Southampton and a double over Newcastle.
And yet we beat Liverpool away, Spurs at home, Manchester City at home, and should have had at least four points from Manchester United were it not for some seriously questionable refereeing. We were able to go toe-to-toe with the better sides and yet struggled against those around us in the relegation zone.
That made an opening two months of fixtures against the division’s lesser sides more daunting that if we had a couple of the big six! It is very early days obviously, but if Brighton have suddenly developed the ability to beat sides in the bottom half of the table and can combine that with last season’s penchant for taking points off the better outfits, then this could be a really exciting campaign.
TSF: Neal Maupay has been the team’s top goal scorer for the last two seasons (10 & 8 respectively) and is off to a good start this season as well. Who else in the squad has the best chance of reaching the 10 goal mark and giving Brighton a consistent second threat?
WAB: If Danny Welbeck could stay fit he would easily reach 10. Sadly, there is more chance of me marrying Taylor Swift than there is of that happening. Leandro Trossard can be a goal threat but he struggles with consistency, so how well we do looks likely to be very dependent on Maupay maintaining his good start to the year over the whole campaign.
As long as Pascal Gross is in the team, Brighton will be a threat from set-pieces. You can probably count on Duffy and Dunk to pop up with four or five goals each which eases the burden a little, especially as towering centre backs scoring from corners and free kicks seems to have gone out of fashion in the Premier League.
TSF: Having seen the new squad for a number of weeks now, how have they taken such a step forward in these early weeks? And what gaps still remain in the squad that will need to be addressed either in January or through tactics?
WAB: They just seem to be more streetwise. Last season was not a case of Brighton failing to win games, it was a case of Brighton finding new ways to lose them. Having Adam Lallana fit helps as he brings a lot of experience and leadership to a young squad and there is far more resilience, perhaps as a result of 2020-21’s xG nightmare.
We would never have scored a last minute winner at Brentford last year for example, nor withstood so much Leicester pressure when beating the Foxes at the Amex. As for January, can I mention a new striker again?
TSF: Which player do you feel has been the biggest surprise so far this season for the club?
WAB: Duffy without a doubt. He was described as the worst signing in SPL history following his terrible year at Celtic and I think that everyone had written him off. Joining Chris Hughton at Nottingham Forest seemed the obvious move.
Instead, he found himself thrown in at the deep end at Burnley on the opening day after Veltman had to self-isolate and there has been no looking back. As a huge part of the Albion’s success over the past five years, you will struggle to find a Brighton fan who begrudges him this remarkable turnaround. He deserves an enormous amount of credit.
TSF: Support is likely quite high at the moment, but how did the fans view Graham Potter coming into the season, and do you believe he can build Brighton into a team pushing for the middle of the Premier League each season?
WAB: He is a funny one. When he picks a sensible team of players in their correct positions, the sky looks the limit. When he is cramming five centre backs into a starting XI for West Brom at home, then you wonder if he thinks he is too clever.
The thing to remember is that he is still a young manager. He is learning on the job and at the same time as the players seem to have matured this year, so too does he. Tony Bloom deserves a lot of credit for that as Potter has overseen two runs of form involving only two wins in 19 and set a club-record sequence of 14 home games without a victory last year.
A lot of other Premier League chairman would have pulled the trigger on their manager. Bloom though has a long-term plan to become an established top 10 side and he clearly sees Potter as the manager for the job. Bloom has not got much wrong in his decade at the helm, so in Tony we trust.
TSF: What is your projected formation and lineup for Brighton this weekend?
WAB: This is a futile question to ask when Brighton are involved as Potter changes his team and formation on a weekly basis. Bissouma missed the Palace game through injury and we looked a completely different beast without him, so fingers crossed he is back for this one. If he does not make it, then Arsenal’s chances of winning will jump significantly.
TSF: And, finally, give us your prediction for the match this weekend.
WAB: It was strange seeing Arsenal complete the double over the Albion last year as we have enjoyed ourselves against you in recent seasons. I do not think there will be much in it, so a 1-1 draw.
Thanks to Scott and We Are Brighton for taking some time to talk with us ahead of this weekend’s Premier League match-up.