A win tonight for Freddie Ljungberg’s Arsenal side will lift the Gunners to sixth place in the table, thus leap-frogging another side who dominated the English football scene in the late 90s and are now managed by one of their star players of that era. In light of the former fact, it would be easy to wonder as to why the club finds itself in the panicked state that led to the sacking of Unai Emery, so here’s another fact: if Arsenal don’t win tonight, they will have gone winless for nine matches in a row. As things stand, they sit ten points off the top four – a domain which used to be their bottom line.
Tonight’s opponent, Brighton, will not be in the business of making things easy for caretaker Ljungberg. The Seagulls, under the management of Graham Potter, have hit a lull in form recently which has seen them fall to three defeats in a row – but those have come against Manchester United, Leicester City and Liverpool. The Seagulls sit just above the bottom three at the time of kick-off, but Norwich, who sit smack-bang in the middle of that group, held Arsenal to a 2-2 draw in Ljungberg’s managerial debut – so tonight could be intriguing.
Defensive issues to continue at the Emirates?
The very idea of an Arsenal side having a negative goal difference at this stage in the season would have been a heresy for most of the last fifty years, through the gritty anti-football of the George Graham days and the flowing artistry of the Wenger era. On the surface of things – and, on the not-so-rare occasions when he got it right, Emery brought the best of both those worlds, fitting an attractive attack to a parsimonious defence. Too often, recently, he combined the worst of the same worlds, with a side that was guileless going forward and naive in its own half.
Arsenal start this match with a -1 in the GD column, and much of the blame falls on a central defence in which David Luiz is the consistent one. With Aubameyang and Lacazette in attack, the Gunners can generally be counted upon to get on the scoresheet. With Shkodran Mustafi in defence, they can also be trusted to give the opposition chances; Coral have 10/3 on both sides scoring in the first half, and it seems like that would be a very realistic prospect given the relative qualities of the two sides.
Home advantage and relief to boost Gunners?
Perhaps the clearest sign that Emery’s era was not going to end in triumph came when it emerged that many of the playing squad saw the manager not as someone to resent and fear, but as a figure of fun. It’s exceptionally difficult for a boss to clamp down when the players don’t feel duty-bound to do a job for them, and Arsenal’s form recently reflected that difficulty. With Ljungberg – a fully paid-up member of the 2003/04 “Invincibles” – in the hot seat for now, there should at the very least be a halo effect in place that’s good for a few elevated performances, especially at home.
It might only take a single goal to puncture that mirage, of course, but Arsenal could be facing a much tougher opponent in tonight’s game. It’s realistic to expect them to win this game, even if narrowly. If they do, it’s likely to be thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is increasingly becoming talismanic to the Emirates faithful. At Betway, you can get a very interesting 2/1 on the Gabonese forward scoring and his side winning on the night. That’s enhanced from 6/5 and, given Aubameyang’s totemic status, is well worth a look.
Further frustration for the Seagulls?
It’s hard to make a case that, as of this moment, there aren’t three sides in the Premier League that are worse than Brighton. That said, they always seem to be relegation-curious, if not deep in the relegation mire. Any point tonight would lift them as high as 13th, but a defeat would leave them just a point above the trap door with a harder-than-it-sounds string of fixtures against Wolves, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United ahead of them. Tonight might, ironically, be their best chance of picking up an unbudgeted point or three.
However, when things aren’t rolling your way, it’s hard to make them turn and that leaves Brighton with a very tricky assignment to even escape with a point here. Fourteen games into the season, striker Neil Maupay leads their scoring charts with just four, suggesting a lack of attacking incision, and it may be the Gunners’ greater potency that decides this game. It’s hard to pick a Correct Score – as it always is when Arsenal are on the pitch – but we can see this one tipping in the home side’s favour, 2-1. Unibet are offering 7/1 on that outcome, but it certainly feels pretty likely this evening.
Bets of the Day
Arsenal win and Aubameyang to score (Betway, 2/1); Arsenal 2-1 (Unibet, 7/1); Both sides to score in first half (Coral, 10/3)