Sports Mole previews Sunday’s Premier League meeting between Arsenal and Brighton, including predictions, team news and head-to-head records.
After losing three Premier League games on the spin, anything other than victory for Arsenal in their home meeting with Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday will likely spell the end of their top-four hopes.
The Gunners may have lost form domestically, but they are on the brink of a place in the Europa League final and Unai Emery must now decide whether to prioritise the European competition.
Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Watford on April 15 lifted them up to fourth in the Premier League, level on points with Chelsea with a game in hand to play.
That the Gunners are now relying on a their London rivals to drop points in their final two matches, against Watford (h) and Leicester City (a), says it all about their terrible run over the past fortnight.
A 3-2 home defeat to Crystal Palace kickstarted the losing run, with Emery’s decision to heavily rotate his side on the back of a trip to Napoli backfiring as his side lost at the Emirates Stadium for just the second time this season in the top flight.
Then came a 3-1 reverse at the hands of Wolverhampton Wanderers and a 3-0 thrashing against Leicester City last weekend, with the Gunners slipping back into their old ways by falling apart at the back.
Emery’s side have now lost eight and drawn four of their 18 away matches this season – a record that is worse than the likes of Palace, Leicester, Watford and Wolves – conceding 34 times on their travels. To put that into perspective, league leaders Manchester City have shipped 10 goals across the same amount of fixtures.
Arsenal’s away-day woes have not just been restricted to the Premier League, though, as they also suffered embarrassing defeats to BATE Borisov and Rennes in the away legs of their Europa League knockout ties, before recovering in the home legs.
Thanks to their ability to pick up wins at the Emirates Stadium, the Gunners have one foot in the Europa League final as they lead Emery’s former club Valencia 3-1 after the opening 90 minutes of their semi-final tie.
Going all the way in UEFA’s secondary competition, with one of Eintracht Frankfurt or Chelsea to provide the competition in the Baku final later this month, is now the North London outfit’s best hope of sealing Champions League football for next season.
While changes can be expected on Sunday, though, Emery will not exactly throw the game and Arsenal will still be favourites to come out on top even with a slightly weakened side.
Not since March 1995 have the Gunners lost four Premier League games in a row – that is not a stat Emery will want to see updated in this final home game of a mixed season.
Recent form in Premier League: WLWLLL
Recent form (all competitions): WWLLLW
Brighton & Hove Albion
Poor for the opening 45 minutes of last weekend’s evening kickoff against Newcastle United, Brighton improved after half time and came away from the match with a 1-1 draw that all but secures another season of Premier League football.
The Seagulls are now four points better off than 18th-placed Cardiff City with two matches to play and boast a vastly better goal difference than the Bluebirds.
It is not inconceivable that Brighton, given their form of the past six weeks, will lose their remaining two matches against Arsenal and Manchester City.
Albion have collected just two points from the last 21 on offer in the Premier League – their other draw coming away to Wolves two weeks ago – and were also knocked out of the FA Cup by Man City during that run.
However, relegation rivals Cardiff must now beat Palace and Man United in their final two matches to make up the deficit on Brighton following the Seagulls’ draw with Newcastle.
A mixture of terrible results and a bland style of football has left Chris Hughton‘s future beyond this summer in doubt, but with the shackles off slightly – albeit with safety not officially secured – the experienced manager may opt to go for it against Arsenal.
However, Brighton have lost all 11 of their Premier League away games against big-six opposition by an aggregate score of 23-2, most recently losing 1-0 to Tottenham Hotspur through a late Christian Eriksen strike.
On their joint-longest run without a Premier League victory, now would be the perfect time for Hughton and his players to replicate the type of form they showed earlier in the season. If not, a Cardiff win against Palace will set up a nervy final day for the south coast side.
Recent form in Premier League: LLLDLD
Recent form (all competitions): LLLDLD
Juventus-bound midfielder Aaron Ramsey confirmed earlier this week that he will miss the rest of the season with a hamstring injury he suffered against Napoli last month, meaning that his Arsenal career is over.
Denis Suarez is also out for the season, while Danny Welbeck, Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin are all long-term absentees.
Of more concern to Emery will be that centre-back Laurent Koscielny is a doubt with an injury picked up in midweek, and right wing-back Ainsley Maitland-Niles is suspended because of the two yellows he picked up at Leicester.
That will force the Spaniard into a reshuffle at the back, potentially meaning just a third Premier League start of the season for Carl Jenkinson.
The visitors are sweating on the fitness of Davy Propper and Beram Kayal, meanwhile, with the latter having an outside chance of making the squad.
Solly March made a big impact from the bench at half time in the Newcastle match last weekend and may have done enough to force his way back into Hughton’s first-team plans.
Hughton surprisingly went with three across the top away to Tottenham, but Glenn Murray – left out at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – is in line to start Saturday’s match at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Leno; Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal; Jenkinson, Torreira, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Mkhitaryan, Iwobi; Aubameyang
Brighton possible starting lineup:
Ryan; Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Bernardo; Gross, Bissouma, Stephens, March; Murray, Andone
Head To Head
Arsenal have lost none of their seven previous home meetings with Brighton in all competitions, winning six and drawing one.
The Gunners have conceded just one goal across those games, most recently winning this corresponding fixture 2-0 last season through goals from Monreal and Alex Iwobi.
In fact, no south-coast side have ever won a Premier League away game against Arsenal in 32 previous attempts.
We say: Arsenal 2-0 Brighton
Arsenal have only lost their last home league game of the season in one of the last 21 campaigns, winning their last six in a row. Only Cardiff and Huddersfield (10 each) have failed to score in more away Premier League games this season than Brighton (eight), meanwhile, with the Seagulls also failing to score in each of their last three on the road.
This is the ideal fixture for the home side to return to winning ways in the Premier League, setting up a tense final round of fixtures in the battle for a top-four finish.