By any measure, Brighton were extraordinarily unlucky last season.
From an attacking perspective, they performed consistently well and notched up some pretty impressive figures, with their shots taken and expected goal tallies up there with some of the best in the league.
Ultimately, though, the ball didn’t hit the back of the net consistently enough and instead of finding themselves comfortably in mid-table, the Seagulls found themselves sucked into a relegation scrap they only narrowly avoided.
This season, however, things already look different.
Graham Potter’s men have accrued a haul of points much more in-keeping with their attacking output and find themselves in sixth place, with four wins from six matches played. How Arsenal would love to have a record as good as that.
These are early days, of course, but it can’t be said that this is some sort of flash-in-the-pan season. Brighton’s upturn in fortunes has been coming for a while and only some errant finishing and a big slice of luck prevented it arriving earlier.
This is all to say that, Arsenal’s trip to the south coast on Saturday is by no means a ‘gimme’. In fact, I would be surprised if it was anything less than an incredibly uncomfortable afternoon.
Mikel Arteta’s men are riding the crest of a derby wave at the moment but, as well we know, in football you’re only as good as your last game and it takes very little for fortunes to reverse.
In an ideal world, this match would have been at the Emirates and we would have had the security of home advantage to fall back on as we look to nurture the small flames of our season. Instead, we’ll have to test our mettle on the road and hope we have carried enough momentum into the match to squeeze through.
The lengthy absence of Granit Xhaka means we will rely heavily on Thomas Partey for guidance and experience in the heart of midfield. Personally, I like the experience that Granit brings to the position in difficult ties but his knee injury means we’ll be without his input for at least three months.
In his place, Sambi Lokonga or Ainsley Maitland-Niles will likely be called upon to fill the void. It’s by no means ideal. Both are talented and willing, ambitious and forward-thinking, but this is a young side and there is a fine line between the fearlessness of youth and naivety.
It’s important also that we keep up our own attacking momentum after a pretty scintillating showing against Spurs last weekend. We have toiled quite hard in recent times to create enough good opportunities so, hopefully, we can carry some of the sharp movement and incisive passing seen last Sunday into this weekend.
Aside from the midfield, I don’t see any reason to make further changes. There may a case for bringing Nicolas Pepe into the midfield to afford someone a rest and a case could also be made for Alex Lacazette’s inclusion but, in truth, we are only playing once a week at the moment so fatigue shouldn’t be too much of a factor.
All things considered, we have to go to the Amex looking for a win but the Arsenal fatalist in me thinks it will be a hell of a lot more difficult than we’d like. The Spurs win was fantastic but teams won’t be that bad every week, the difficult afternoons we faced against Burnley and Norwich are likely to be much more par for the course.