Final Result: Arsenal 1-2 Brighton (Odegaard 89′ | Trossard 29′, Mwepu 67′)
Arsenal XI (4-3-3): Ramsdale; Cedric, White, Gabriel, Xhaka; Sambi Lokonga, Smith-Rowe (Nketiah 62′), Odegaard; Saka, Martinelli (Pepe 74′) Lacazette
Following the 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace, Arsenal was expected to gain maximum points against Brighton, with their arch-rivals, Tottenham, gaining momentum with sights on the coveted fourth spot for Champions League qualification. Losing Kieran Tierney to a season ending injury, coupled with Nuno Taveres’ pathetic display, was a very bitter pill to swallow, but losing Thomas Partey to his recurrent thigh injury as well, made our already thin squad even thinner.
With the manager clearly lacking trust in Nuno Taveres, the only recognizable central midfielder, Granit Xhaka, was asked to deputise at left back, allowing Sambi Lokonga to fill in at midfield with Emile Smith-Rowe and Martin Odegaard playing ahead of him. Not to be critical of Nuno Taveres and Lokonga, but in all honesty, they are not ready for first team football at Arsenal. In the games they have managed to play, they have struggled so badly, and their performances were clear indications on why they have rotted on the bench all these weeks. Nuno’s inexperience was on show with the first Crystal Palace goal he ducked when he should have hit the deck for a clear free kick as he was impeded by Joachim Andersen. For the second goal at Palace, he was so far off from Gabriel that the team became exposed when Andersen’s pass found Jordan Ayew, so it was no surprise to see him yanked out at halftime.
Sambi Lokonga on the other hand, had a stinker yesterday, offering little or no protection to the backline in front of him, and he was found wanting as both goals conceded to Brighton came from similar positions at the edge of the box, where a certain Partey would have been on the prowl to mop up any opposition attack in his bid to do his job, which is providing defensive support to the team. Due to Taveres’ short comings, Xhaka was removed from the position where he would have provided support to the backline, leaving Lokonga to do a job he has shown he’s not capable of.
Odegaard’s brilliant drive turned out to be nothing more than a consolation, and with Tottenham destroying Aston Villa away, the Gunners are now three points behind Spurs with just a couple of games left to play. I know there is a lot of football to be played between now and the end of the season, but losing at home to Brighton is a major setback and a big blow to our top four qualification hopes.
Let’s hope things work out for our good in the coming days and weeks ahead, as we play Southampton next before the game in hand against Chelsea.
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Brighton 2 Arsenal 3
With the surprises on show on Saturday, Arsene Wenger was reminded that if you loose your guard in the FA Cup, you’d be duly punished. It was expected that some players in the team where going to get some deserved rest so it was paramount for the manager to rotate the squad effectively to keep everyone fresh.
Wojciech Szczesny replaced David Ospina in goal and there were starts for Calum Chambers and the fit-again Kieran Gibbs. I was thinking that Laurent Koscielny was going to get some rest but it was glaring that Per Mertesacker needed a breather too. With the imminent arrival of Gabriel Paulista, it was heartwarming to know that this position is well covered. In midfield, Mathieu Flamini returned ahead of the Coq with Aaron Ramsey and captain of the day, Tomas Rosicky, in the middle. Olivier Giroud was flanked by the returnees, Mesut Özil and Theo Walcott.
It was important to start the game well and Arsenal got to the best possible start when Chambers skipped past his marker before drilling a cross for Walcott. The Englishman has been rusty of late but we saw the Walcott of old as he controlled the ball immaculately before blasting it past Stokedale in goal. It took just 90 seconds for the Gunners to take the lead.
Özil got into his stride and threaded a pass to Ramsey. The Welsh Jesus let one rip but the shot was blocked by a Brighton defender. Arsenal extended their lead when Rosicky cushioned an inch-perfect pass to the path of Özil that controlled the ball with his first touch and sent the goalie the wrong way with the second.
That second goal brought an air of complacency into Arsenal’s game and they were almost punished when Koscielny lost possession in his area but Baldock hoofed his shot over the bar. At the start of the second half, Brighton received a glimmer of hope when the ball crept into O’ Grady’s path and the forward fired a shot that left Szczesny rooted to the spot. Arsenal restored their two goal cushion when Rosicky sent a blind pass to Giroud and when he received the Frenchman’s chipped effort, he blasted the ball under the goalie to make it three.
Walcott had a near post effort that was saved and there was even time for the manager to bring on Alexis Sanchez and Chuba Akpom for Giroud and Walcott. Brighton clawed another goal in when Baldock was clean through on goal and he executed a neat chipped effort over Szczesny. Wenger brought on Francis Coquelin to add some steel to the midfield and there were two late freekicks from Alexis that threatened the goalie.
In the end, the goals were more than enough to book a fifth round berth and it was also good to know that it was achieved with so many regular first team players getting a rest. Wenger rested seven players from the Etihad game and the players that were brought on had it in them to achieve what the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham, Southampton and Manchester City failed to do.
Have a great week.
The FA Cup may not be as glittering in terms of its rewards like the Champions League or Premier League but what it offers is that unpredictable knockout football. Hey, it was the competition that ended the Gunners trophy drought so you can say that Arsenal fans have a thing or two for it. Let’s not forget that it’s also the competition Arsene Wenger has won the most (five times) in his 18-year stint with the club and I’m sure he loves ’em cup runs.
Imagine being Wenger in last season’s FA Cup final conceding two goals in eight minutes. I’m sure he felt in his heart that if he lost that competition, he would have chosen not to renew his deal because if the lads were not motivated enough to win a Hull side they beat a couple of weeks in the run to the final, then there’s no point hanging around. Well, the boys turned up the style and that would go down as one of the best Cup finals I’ve ever witnessed as a fan.
So last season’s adventure was over and it was now about the Gunners defending their crown. Sadly for Hull, they were faced in front of the firing line again and it took goals from Per Mertesacker (his only goal this season) and Alexis Sanchez (I’ve lost count of how many goals he’s scored) to take the Gunners to the fourth round.
The Fourth Round took center stage yesterday with some results that would go down well with the Emirates faithful. It started with a shock win for Birmingham City over Swansea but the Swans have been utter shite recently so the result wasn’t really all that ‘shocking’ per se. Then there was the Manchester United vs. Cambridge that ended up as a bore draw. LVG’s side was shambolic as you’d expect but since Cambridge couldn’t nick in a goal at home, you’d expect them to have their work cut out for them at Old Trafford. Then there was the Chelsea vs. Bradford game where a bullish Mourinho stated that it would be a disgrace to lose to Bradford. Little did he know that Bradford would make history by being the first team to beat Mourinho by four goals in his home stadium. Manchester City still had the Arsenal hangover against Middlesbro’ugh and there were goals for Marouane Chamakh and Yaya Sanogo as the Alan Pardew army marched on past Southampton. The day was wrapped up with a stalemate between Liverpool and Bolton.
Today the Gunners come up against a Brighton side they faced off two seasons ago. It wasn’t a stroll in the park as many expected and I can vividly remember that Andre Santos had a torrid time. Two goals from Olivier Giroud and a late Theo Walcott goal settled the contest.
To team news, Wojciech Szczesny could be in line to make a return to first team football action and it would be interesting to see how he handles it. In defense, Kieran Gibbs is working his way back to full fitness and I expect him to get a run out with Hector Bellerin continuing his good run of form on the right. Laurent Koscielny would get some deserved rest with Calum Chambers and Per Mertesacker in the heart of the defense.
In midfield, Mathieu Flamini has been displaced from the first team by Francis Coquelin, so I have a hunch that he’d be odds on to play today. Aaron Ramsey is still in need of games so he’d play alongside the ageless Czech, Tomas Rosicky, in the middle. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud will complete the front three.
Here’s to a great game of football