The defending champions of the FA Cup title – Arsenal take on Brighton Hove and Albion at the Amex stadium this Sunday as Arsene Wenger and his men continue their march to retain the title.
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.
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.
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.
Alexis Sanchez has been brilliant on the left, Cazorla in central midfield has got sweeter with age like old wine, raising the question of Mesut Ozil’s role in the team henceforward. Just the substitute appearance against Stoke has been his involvement in an Arsenal game since October, so he may not fire from the start at Brighton.
Yet, he will know this is his opportunity to really start delivering on his reputation. Surely Wenger will play him as a Number 10, especially if Santi will be given a rest – and he should. He will still be his languid, strolling self but perhaps with Walcott with him as Wenger has confirmed, we could finally witness the making of the German in an Arsenal shirt.
Speaking of confidence, no one needs as much support at the moment as Szczesny does and handing him a first start since that Southampton nightmare on New Year’s Day will be a huge pat on his back. Some have tauntingly suggested that Damian Martinez should be the man in goal for the game but that will ultimately destroy Szczesny. Wenger believes in him and if he gets the nod, he must show sufficient firmness to win back Arsenal fans, most of whom have clearly deserted him.
With Yaya Sanogo out on loan and Danny Welbeck out injured, Chuba Akpom and Joel Campbell are the youngest strikers in the team now and there is reduced competition in that department.
Akpom is yet to make a starting appearance this season but could be handed a chance against the seagulls defence on Sunday. The permanent sale of Afobe plus the new contract being offered to him must be signal to that the Arsene wants him to have an Arsenal future. He has a good rating amongst Arsenal fans, all he needs to make it much better would be an accomplished performance against Brighton on Sunday just as Campbell will be looking to doing just that.
Having said all that, coupled with the options available to Wenger presently, here is how the boss is likely to line up his side:
With an expected quality Arsenal bench that can feature any of the likes of Alexis, Giroud, Ramsey, Coquelin, Cazorla & Koscielny. It is expected that Arsenal should cruise to a 3-0 victory at the Amex.
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