After two weeks on the road, Arsenal return to the Emirates on Sunday to face perpetual pest Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League.
December has been defined by close results for the Gunners so far. Winning 2-1 over Wolves, coming from behind to take a 4-3 win at the death at Luton, and being their own worst enemies during a 1-0 loss at Aston Villa have shown us the best and worst of Arsenal in the span of three matches. They’ve finally looked solid in the attack, but their early season defensive solidity has started to wane, with the Gunners giving up some pretty avoidable goals.
Now the Gunners finally return to the pitch at home, hosting Brighton. After finishing 6th last season, the Seagulls qualified for the Europa League. Like many clubs playing in Europe for the first time, they have started to look a little less potent in the league with the added fixtures. If Arsenal’s December has been defined by single goal results, that has largely defined Brighton’s season. Since the end of September, every one of Brighton’s wins and losses has come by a single goal.
They’ve also rattled off a litany of draws, with 5 so far this season - the joint most in the league. They have only 4 losses to their names, so while they are not an easy team to beat, they struggle to come back and get a win if they fall behind, a point that the Gunners need to capitalize on if they want to take all three points from the visitors.
Here are three talking points ahead of Sunday’s match:
Breaking the Cycle
Of all of the teams to have been a thorn in Arsenal’s side in recent years, Brighton have been among the thorniest. Since their promotion to the Premier League in 2017, Arsenal’s record against the Seagulls has been, well, dreadful. Over 12 matches, the Gunners have a record of 4 wins, 3 draws, and 5 losses against the coastal club (not including last season’s 3-1 loss in the League Cup). The most recent loss to Brighton was without a doubt the most brutal. An emotionally and physically exhausted Arsenal lost 0-3 at the Emirates in May, with the result all but putting the final nails in the coffin of Arsenal’s title hopes.
After climbing the table under Graham Potter, Brighton have been consistently solid with Roberto De Zerbi at the helm, which is pretty impressive when you consider their role as the league’s most popular feeder club for the top 6. They finished 6th last season and are currently in 8th in the Premier League. They also finished at that top of their Europa League group on Thursday with a 1-0 win against Marseille. They could easily find themselves knocking on the door of a European spot once again by season’s end, but also seem equally as likely to remain midtable.
The beginning of the season was marked by a downturn in shots and goals as Mikel Arteta tinkered with lineups and tactics while bedding in new players. It wasn’t until November that the goals started flowing again with the same regularity as last season, but the production hit a snag over the last two matches.
With the heavy rotation away to PSV, it wasn’t terribly surprising that goals were hard to come by. But the lack of an end product was once again on display against Aston Villa, when the Gunners did everything right except for putting the ball in the net. They created numerous gilt-edged chances but frustratingly misfired when it mattered, which led to a loss that let Liverpool overtake them at the top of the table. Against the Seagulls, at home, and with a massive trip to Anfield around the corner, finding their shooting boots is a major priority.
The Smith Returns
While he only made a brief cameo against PSV, we were treated to a lovely sight on Tuesday as Emile Smith Rowe finally returned to first team action after another lengthy injury layoff. It feels like ages ago that he was breaking through into the first team and banging in crucial goals for the Gunners. You’ve gotta feel for the young man. Over the last two seasons, he has had to watch from the sidelines as his Hale End alumni Eddie Nketiah and Bukayo Saka have been major pieces of the first team. With injuries hitting the midfield in particular, his return couldn’t have come at a better time. We all remember the quality he brought three seasons ago, and it would be a huge boost if he could find his groove once more.
The Gunners haven’t won against the Seagulls at home since May of 2021. That’s just one of those stats that need very little extrapolation. We saw what happened last season when Mikel Arteta’s side weren’t up for it, and it wasn’t pretty. There’s little to believe that will be the case on Sunday, but Arsenal will need to be at their best to keep that streak from extending for another season.
WHAT: Arsenal vs Brighton & Hove Albion
WHEN: Sunday, December 17th, 9:00am EST/6:00am PST/2:00pm GMT
WHERE: The Emirates Stadium
HOW TO WATCH: Broadcast live on the USA Network & Telemundo. Streaming available on NBCSports.com
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