We are just one week back to Premier League action, and things are as we left them before the break. Boxing Day was about as an ideal a performance as you’d like from the Gunners coming out of the break. Even with the blemish of an early penalty, Arsenal showed everything that you could hope to see from the league leaders - cohesive play, confidence, and plenty of teeth.
After the frustrating first half, a spectacular second half put to bed any concerns about whether or not Mikel Arteta’s side would get their sea legs back quickly. Eddie Nketiah, in the place of injured Gabriel Jesus, led the line with purpose. It took them a half, but Arsenal reminded everyone precisely why they are top of the league. It was a complete performance with a tidy 3-1 score line to stay atop the table.
Now Arsenal hit the road to wrap up a successful calendar year by facing Brighton & Hove Albion, a side that has been a thorn in the Gunners’ side with alarming regularity. Since being promoted from the Championship in 2017-18, Arsenal have only managed three wins against Brighton from 10 league matches, with four losses to go with three draws, which is their worst record against a team not in the traditional top six. If the Gunners want to continue their historic run, they will need to get over the Brighton Boogieman.
There is the easy cliche, which is that this Arsenal side is different. And, sure, that isn’t necessarily wrong. Arteta has resurrected the corpse of a once-great club, purged the dead weight, and molded it into an efficient, exciting, and dangerous side with young talent abounding. The deficiencies and weaknesses that used to plague the team are largely a thing of the past - not completely gone, but few and far between. The biggest change, though, may come from the mentality the players carry with them. They are tough SOBs that get back up after getting hit in the mouth and hit back harder. To paraphrase Troy Deeney’s famous quote, they have found their cojones.
But no matter how you slice it, there is something about Brighton that Arsenal just cannot seem to figure out. The Gunners performances agains the Seagulls have been frustratingly stingy in front of net, having failed to score more than two goals against the Seagulls since 2017. Brighton have made a name for themselves by being a tough team to put away, and have found themselves at the top half of the table regularly because of it. And it was only in November that Brighton bested Arsenal 3-1 in the Carabao Cup (albeit against a very heavily rotated Arsenal).
This match will be a great test of the Gunners’ fortitude, and an opportunity they will surely relish. They have a target on their back now, and will undoubtedly get everyone’s best efforts. Arsenal also have a heavy slate of big matches in January, matches that could put the Gunners’ title aspirations to the test. A win away will keep the momentum going and keep the ever-important gap between them and Manchester City.
Even without Graham Potter, who left Brighton for Chelsea in the fall, they are a quality side. But, perhaps to Arsenal’s benefit, they look to be without Alex MacAllister, who is still on holiday after winning the World Cup, and Moises Caicedo, who is out due to yellow card accumulation. Two players do not define a team, but two major players missing are not ideal for the hosts.
Arsenal are in a good position right now. A win keeps their distance over City intact. A draw or loss, while not ideal, still see the Gunners on top when the book closes on 2022. The Gunners will be looking for all three points, but a win is worth more than that on Saturday. It is momentum and confidence ahead of January’s packed fixture list.
Here’s hoping for a Happy New Year for Mikel Arteta and his tricky Gunners.
WHAT: Arsenal at Brighton & Hove Albion
WHERE: Falmer Stadium, Brighton
WHEN: 12:30pm EST/9:30am PST/5:30pm BST
HOW TO WATCH: Broadcast live on NBC. Streaming live on Peacock.
For all your international streaming needs, check LiveSoccerTV.com. Please do not discuss or share links to illegal streams here