Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents. Arsène Wenger's side take on Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist Andy Naylor for their views.
Gustavo Poyet has built an impressively flexible side at Brighton, shifting between a flat 4-4-2 and a more nuanced 4-3-3 in recent weeks. Although he used the former shape in the 2-0 win over Newcastle in the third round, a 4-3-3 appears more likely to cope with Arsenal’s intricate midfield passing.
Brighton will keep Arsenal guessing, and Poyet has the squad depth to produce a surprise selection
However, the presence of a couple of versatile players allows Poyet to switch between the two systems with the same starting XI. Andrea Orlandi can play on the left of a four-man midfield or as one of three central players, while Ashley Barnes can be an outside left or a second striker.
Brighton will keep Arsenal guessing, and Poyet has the squad depth to produce a surprise selection.
Brighton’s squad is a mixture of experienced Championship-level players, and some technically impressive Spanish imports, which sums up their style of play. They have rightly received praise for their adventurous passing football, but Poyet is also a pragmatic coach, and will instruct his players to make this game scrappy and physical.
The key man in the centre of the pitch will be Liam Bridcutt, a stocky and feisty central midfielder who came through the ranks at Chelsea. He’s good technically, but is also willing to get stuck in. Dean Hammond will provide energy and tenacity alongside Bridcutt.
The most interesting battle will be Wayne Bridge’s probable clash with Theo Walcott. Bridge was excellent in the win over Newcastle, storming past Gabriel Obertan on the overlap to provide crosses, but had a very difficult time against Walcott two years ago on his West Ham debut, and was responsible for all three Arsenal goals.
On the other flank, the versatile David Lopez will probably be used to track Kieran Gibbs’ bursts forward.
Brighton’s major goal threat will be centre forward Craig MacKail-Smith, who is a classic lower league striker, clever with his movement and link-up play. He’ll try to create gaps for midfield runners to exploit, which will make Brighton dangerous on the counter-attack.
ANDY NAYLOR, THE ARGUS
Brighton are unbeaten in all competitions in 2013. It’s going to be a full house. They’ve always been competitive in the 15 or 16 months since they’ve played at the Amex. They’ve not really been turned over by anyone yet. I would be surprised if it’s a one-sided game.
Brighton aren’t the kind of side that will really go at a team. Poyet likes the team to control the game by having the ball. They’re not a gung-ho side
It’s their second season at the Amex Stadium. They had a sound first season in the Championship, finishing 10th. They go into the Arsenal game in seventh place in the league and are progressing in the right way.
They had a rather humbling experience at Anfield last season in the fifth round of the FA Cup where they lost 6-1. Gus Poyet wants his team to learn from that result and try not to expend all their energy early on. Brighton aren’t the kind of side that will really go at a team. Poyet likes the team to control the game by having the ball. They’re not a gung-ho side. I can’t see them throwing everything at Arsenal in the opening stages.
The formation never differs that much, but essentially it’s quite fluid. They play in a 4 -3-3 with a flat back four and always have Liam Bridcutt sitting in front.
Bridcutt was player of the season last year, and has been very influential again this season. He often breaks up play and then instigates Brighton’s attacks. He’s become very good at shielding the back four, and Poyet has called him the best defensive midfielder in the Championship.
I think it’s going to be close but I think Arsenal will win 2-1.Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source