Arsenal v Brighton
Thursday 05 December, 20:15
Live on Amazon Prime
Ljungberg faces mammoth task
Mankind has wrestled with some huge questions across history, conundrums that have tested the most learned of scholars. What is the meaning of life? How did we all come to be here? Why is a hobnob better than a chocolate hobnob (if you don't think it is, we can't be friends.)
Perhaps the most thorny question of all is how do you change the culture of fragility at Arsenal? It was a poser that thoroughly defeated Unai Emery – the Spaniard has departed the club having not solved the Gunners' defensive woes, made them more stoic in midfield or toughened them up on their travels. His short-term (and potentially long-term) replacement Freddie Ljungberg had little chance of fixing those issues immediately, and they were there for all to see in the 2-2 draw at Norwich City. Watching former Arsenal defender Martin Keown analyse the defensive display on television was like watching an Old Master painter forced to assess a stick man drawn in crayon.
Arsenal haven't won any of their last eight games in all competitions. They haven't kept a clean sheet since the first week of October, and they have conceded at least twice in seven of their last nine games. It says a lot that keeper Bernd Leno has made more Premier League saves than any other custodian this term. Even their usually reliable home form has faltered – the North London giants haven't won at the Emirates since October 24.
Not all is lost. Skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang remains a reliable goal-getter (he has scored 12 goals in all competitions, including four goals in his last five appearances) and although slating Mesut Ozil is de rigeur these days, I believe Ljungberg's decision to bring the German back into the fold is a good thing. Arsenal have only failed to score in two of their competitive games this season.
Midfielder Dani Ceballos is injured, while Hector Bellerin isn't fully fit.
Seagulls captivated by Potter's magic touch
Successful managers need to have a wide skillset, but they often excel in one or two areas. Some are charismatic motivators, some are cerebral tacticians, and some are skilled educators who understand how people tick. Brighton's Graham Potter has always had the vibe of the cool teacher at school that everyone liked, and his willingness to think outside the box at Swedish club Ostersunds is how he got his big break. He would make players get involved in public performances of ballet and rock music, and he was willing to personally step out of his comfort zone by doing things like performing the Lapland anthem in the local language.
This may all seem a bit madcap, but there's method in it, and it helps Potter get the best out of his players. Just a few months into his first season with Brighton, Potter has been handed a contract extension. The Seagulls go into this midweek round of top-flight fixtures hovering above the dropzone, but it's a club that feels like it's moving in the right direction. Although they have lost their last three games, it's worth noting they faced Leicester City and Manchester United, and at the weekend they gave Liverpool a big scare before losing 2-1.
However, the away form needs to be addressed. Brighton have lost their last four road matches in the league, and they've collected a solitary point on their travels since they won at Watford on the opening weekend of the season. They have leaked 13 goals in their last six away games.
Arsenal too short for breakthrough win
Despite Brighton's poor away form, it's tough to get excited about backing Arsenal to win here at [1.65]. Ljungberg has a huge amount of work to do, and although fans will be enthused about his home debut as manager, the flaws in the squad are still in evidence. Our focus should be elsewhere.
Brighton approach should yield goals
Potter's Brighton play on the front foot, and it's worth noting that both teams have scored in their last three Premier League away games, with all three of those matches featuring at least three goals. In five of Arsenal's last eight games in all competitions, both teams have found the net, and an Over 2.5 Goals bet has landed.
I'll back a BTTS/Over 2.5 Goals double here on the Sportsbook at [1.8].
Don't rule out early flurry of fun
At very least, you'd expect Ljungberg to send his team out fired up in his first home game, and I'd expect the opening exchanges to be pretty lively. In three of Arsenal's last five PL games, there have been at least two first-half goals, and that's true of four of Brighton's last six top-flight outings. I'll back Over 1.5 First Half Goals at [2.34].
This post first appeared here