Arsenal’s FA Cup triumph last year was virtually achieved at the Emirates as all three games preceding the Wembley semi-final were all at home for the Gunners, and so it would be a welcome development that after beginning the defence of the trophy this season on home soil against Hull, Arsene Wenger will take his team out for some ‘fresh air’ away from home in the fourth round.
Interestingly, Arsenal’s last away game in the FA Cup was against Brighton Hove and Albion, and that was 26 days into 2013, this repeat fixture one day short from being exactly 2 years to that day.
The seagulls were an entertaining League One team, playing vibrant football under the present-day Sunderland coach, Gus Poyet. A hard-fought 3 – 2 victory 5 minutes from time provided worthy entertainment to a fully packed 30,000 crowd at the Amex and with another sell-out expected, it promises to be, once more, an absorbing game.
This will bear a more respectable mark in that Brighton are now a Championship team, albeit currently sat at 19th place, 6 points and 3 places off the relegation zone. After last weekend’s 3 – 2 defeat to Ipswich, however, they will hope to continue threading on the path of confidence which has been laid since Chris Hughton took over from Sami Hyypia towards the end of 2014. They had only picked up 3 wins in 20 games between September and December, but are now on a run that has seen them win four of their last five.
Both Arsenal and Brighton have experienced “promotions” since that last meeting two years ago and while a couple of players have moved on from both sides, there is still a core who will remember the game with much glee.
Brighton’s scorers on the day, Leonardo Ulloa and Ashley Barnes, are fighting for their Premiership status with Leicester and Burnley respectively, but defenders Gordon Greer and Inigo Calderon are still part of the seagulls’ back four, while Kazenga Lualua and Craig Mackail-Smith will also be looking forward to revenge. After playing his part in handing Walcott the chance to score the winning goal, Casper Ankergren looks to have lost his place now to former Hull and Fulham goalie, David Stockdale.
Hughton’s main danger man should be the on-loan Liverpool forward, Joao Teixeira, after his two-goal heroics versus Ipswich and Wenger has already noted that his players would have to keep the tricky Portuguese youngster quiet. Sam Baldock and Calderon flanked him in a forward three behind Chris O’Grady last weekend and having seen that work against a high-flying, promotion-chasing team, the former Newcastle manager will most likely stick with it.
For Arsenal, the hero of two beautiful goals on the day, Olivier Giroud, is very much a man on form, especially after the City win last weekend, although he may be given a rest for the younger stars like Joel Campbell and Chuba Akpom, anxiously awaiting their chances, to make full impressions on the first team.
The likes of Cazorla may also get rests for the Ozils to return, but more significant, though, is that this game could feature the return for Wojciech Szczesny to the starting team again. The Pole has found himself on the bench for two consecutive League games but handing him a chance to save his Arsenal future at the Amex won’t remind you of the two goals he conceded last time out. This will be his chance to show everyone that he has cleared all the smoke but still retains the fire for his career.
It is not a game that will trouble Brighton if they lose as their main focus will be to keep up with the good form in the Championship and see if they can prance further up the log.
Wenger, though, knows this is the most realistic chance at a trophy this season, even if he harbors silent ambitions for the Champions League. The weight of upcoming fixtures may accommodate a replay but nobody really wants that. Certainly Arsenal fans won’t want a repeat of that scare last two years which nearly forced a replay but if, at the end, the result is another 3 – 2 victory, everyone will take it. On the current upward form of the Gooners, though, that should be the worst case.
Follow oohtobeagooner on Facebook
for more latest Arsenal transfer news, injury news, team news and rumours.