The nay-sayers will point out to you that we’ve only won twice in ten outings against Brighton, including a 1-3 loss in the League Cup back in November. That match does stand out as one in which Arteta got it wrong, not so much in fielding a heavily rotated side (only Saliba and Tierney started among a bunch of back-benchers) but in panicking late on, throwing on Martinelli and then Big Gabi and Zinchenko and Jesus and finally Xhaka in what looked like an increasingly desperate grasping at straws. Arteta may have learned from Pep that it’s imperative to fight for each trophy, but if he had wanted to win, he would have started as we finished. Ah, well. Water under a bridge or off a duck’s back. This is the Prem, a competition we know not to take lightly…even if our hosts will be lacking key players.
Since coming on back in September, Roberto De Zerbi has struggled to make his mark seeing Brighton to slipping from fourth place on matchday seven to their current seventh-place status. Things don’t get any easier, given the hand he’s been dealt (or the cards the referees have dealt…). In addition to missing Alexis Mac Allister due to his participation in the World Cup, De Zerbi may be without Danny Welbeck but will definitely be without Moisés Caicedo, who picked up his fifth yellow card against Southampton and will serve the subsequent one-match ban on Saturday Further shortening his bench will injuries to Jakub Moder and Adam Webster (Moder hasn’t played yet this season, so his absence matters somewhat less than Webster’s. In Webster’s absence, De Zerbi has had to rely on the 19 year old CB Levi Colwill, who has acquitted himself quite well so far in his five starts. To circle back, though, we should know better than to underestimate this squad given that they’ve been a bit of a bogey side for us over the last few years.
As for us, a lot of eyes will again be on Eddie Nketiah to see if his performance against West Ham was a one-off, as many of his critics will loudly proclaim; or if he can build on that. TO be frank, I don’t understand why so many of us deride Nketiah. He may not be Hale End, but he’s been here a while, he’s worked hard, and he’s gotten better and better. Is he good enough for our ambitions? No, not yet, but it’s not his fault that the injury to Jesus has thrust him front and center so suddenly. As I alluded to in yesterday’s post, we may not need a dominant, prolific, goal-scoring striker when the chances and assists and goals are coming from all directions. Heck, even the healthy Jesus was part of that attack-by-committee before going down. Nketiah did show against West Ham (as he’s shown in previous starts) that he is comfortable being more than a traditional big man in the middle, moving off the ball and across the front three to exchange positions with his mates to stretch defenses and create openings. That said, I really do hope he bags a brace or more, not just for the result but also for his development and, last but not least, to offer up a few more servings of humble pie or crow or their own words for his critics to eat.
He wears the shirt. He works. He presses. Heck, he scores. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, and so I struggle to understand why so many still lambast him.Much as I understand that players sometimes use criticism to get themselves fired up, I’m not foolish enough to believe that this is what motivates the critics. They have axes to grind and evidence to cherry-pick. Let them talk. I’m sure (okay, more like hopeful) that Nketiah will walk the walk.
My prediction: Brighton 0-2 Arsenal. Both goals from Nketiah. I’m feeling sassy. What say you?