12:00 KO (BST); Sunday 1st October; Emirates Stadium (London, England) BT Sport
Amidst a re-building process by Arsene Wenger following last season’s disappointments, Arsenal are slowly growing in stature as a club this season. The North London boo-boys chanting Wenger out have been conspicuous by their absence in recent weeks as the Gunners, with five wins and a draw from their last six games in all competitions, will look to extend their good run to cement their place near the top of the table.
Brighton’s win over Newcastle last weekend eased some of the early pressure on them and they can now move into the international break with 10 points from seven games if they’re able to claim a win against Arsenal. The task will be made harder by the FA’s decision this week to award Tomer Hemed with a three-match ban for violent conduct, however, as underdogs in the Premiership, anything is possible.
Last time out
BATE Borisov 2 – 4 ARSENAL (Europa League)
Arsene Wenger continues to use the Europa League as a competitive platform to build for the future. With his starting lineup featuring a mix of unproven players transitioning from the youth team and experienced players unable to make the Premiership starting lineups, he has struck a winning combination. It also looked to be a combination which was too much for the Belarusian champions after the Gunners stormed into a three-goal lead within 25 minutes.
After Olivier Giroud converted a soft penalty decision for his 100th goal in an Arsenal shirt, the Belarusian’s attempted to claw their way back into the game. While the final half an hour saw Borisov come back into the match and threaten to spoil Wenger’s plans, Arsenal proved too resolute and hung onto their two-goal advantage throughout the closing stages.
BRIGHTON 1 – 0 Newcastle United (Premiership)
A finely balanced game ended in the Seagulls favour after a closely fought game on the South coast. With the two clubs almost level at the end of last season, this was always unlikely to be anything other than a tight game composed of tiny margins. Brighton were rewarded for their early endeavours when Tomer Hemed scored soon after the break, however, he was also involved in the game’s other major talking point.
After a running battle with Newcastle’s right-back, DeAndre Yedlin, throughout the game, the sometimes overly physical clash was soured in the 89th minute when Hemed stamped down on his rivals ankle. Although it was missed by the referee he has since been retrospectively punished and received a belated red card for the incident. It was this physical approach which paid off for Chris Hughton’s side against Newcastle, however, they will need to be careful not to cross too far over the line using this tactic.
Calum Chambers (hip) Francis Coquelin (hamstring) Santiago Cazorla (fitness) Danny Welbeck (groin) and Mesut Özil (knee) will all be missing this weekend with Laurent Koscielny (Achilles) and Alex Iwobi (thigh) also doubts to start the game. After resting many of his regular starters for the Europa tie on Thursday, Wenger should be able to field largely the same side which almost beat Chelsea last weekend.
Beram Kayal (leg) Steve Sidwell (back) and Sam Baldock (calf) all remain unavailable for the Seagulls with Tomer Hemed suspended after his stamp at the end of the game against Newcastle last weekend. Izzy Brown could be set to return to the team after recovering from his recent hamstring issues while it’s also hoped Glenn Murray will be available to lead the line for the Seagulls.
Key Battle: Granit Xhaka vs Davy Pröpper
After moving to Brighton from PSV Eindhoven this summer, Pröpper has fulfilled part of his desire to play in the Premiership. For him to complete the second half of this wish he now needs to make this a successful move and become an established name in this League. Having played in the knock-out stages of the Champions League, he is a player who arrived with a great reputation and has already made a series of steady performances in midfield, however, this game will see him pitted against some of the players he greatly admires.
Aiming to stop the attacking midfielder this week will be Xhaka, a player who has had mixed fortunes since his arrival in London last summer. A slow start gave way to several outstanding performances towards the end of last season and it looked like the combative midfielder had finally found his feet in the Premiership. Further mixed displays this term have found him again needing to raise his game and show he can control the game for Arsenal from the centre of the field.
A Work in Progress
After seeing several high-profile players depart the club this summer and two of their biggest stars famously being in the final year of their current contracts, Arsenal have every right to claim this is a transitional season. Wenger’s policy of bleeding the most talented of his youngsters into the Europa league deserves much praise, with many of them looking comfortable on the European stage and will benefit from the experience in years to come.
Within the Premiership, Arsenal continue to look solid following the disastrous collapse against Liverpool. Most teams need a watershed moment in their season for them to realise their collective deficiencies to build and improve as a team. This watershed moment is something which has become a regular feature for Arsenal in recent years and only time will tell if they’re able to improve this time around or paper over the cracks which plague the team.
Much was expected of Anthony Knockaert prior to the Premiership’s curtain-raiser this season, however, the flying winger is yet to offer any more than a fleeting glimpse of his talents. While the first two games saw him eased into the side as a substitute following a small injury concern with his ankle, he’s only completed the full match once in the following four Premiership fixtures. This has led some to question the Frenchman’s fitness levels, an accusation which Hughton was quick to dismiss.
While he was undoubtedly the Championship’s star player last year, he seems to be finding the step up in quality problematic, with faster and more astute defenders now standing in his way. His general play this season has looked hesitant and after failing to make the grade at Leicester, he still has a lot to prove at this level. A recent interview has seen him expose the grief which still exists in his mind following the death of his father last November and hopefully for him, Brighton and the Premiership he’s able to find a way of managing this and living up to his potential on the pitch.
PREDICTION: Arsenal 2 – 0 Brighton
Arsenal can expect a backs-to-the-wall approach from Brighton on Sunday, especially with the Seagulls potentially being without a recognised striker on the pitch, although, Izzy Brown may be rushed into the starting lineup to enable Pascal Groß to play in front of him as the lone striker. The Gunners seem to be building their confidence and a head of steam this season and they should continue this progress with a solid victory at home over the newly promoted club.
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