Brighton & Hove Albion 2-3 Arsenal: Deja-Vu All Over Again

Picture: BBC

Wait, stop me if you've heard this one before - FA Cup 4th round, away to Brighton, unnecessarily nervy 3-2 win? You have? Well yeah, it was only two years ago that we beat these same opponents at this stage of the competition. Yesterday's overdose of industrial-strength FA Cup Magic meant that winning today was the sole objective, the path to Wembley now mostly clear of other clubs of our size.

Job well and truly matter how it got there.

Arsene Wenger fielded a strong lineup, that still managed to give Alexis Sanchez and Per Mertesacker the rest that both so badly needed. Wojciech Szczesny started in goal, but the one other surprise was that Francis Coquelin was back on the bench after his snarling masterpiece of midfield destruction against Manchester City.

It didn't look like we'd need him, though, as our boys had the ball in the Seagulls' net inside of two minutes. Calum Chambers stormed down the right wing, no blue shirt within 14 postal codes of him. He crossed to Theo Walcott at the top of the box, and he too was bafflingly left unattended by the Brighton backline. He had time to kill the ball, take another touch, and lash an unstoppable shot across former Fulham man David Stockdale and into the net.

Now, I've seen teams react to an early goal against where they immediately come to life and look to hit back right away. But, the home side spent the entire first half in a bleary sleepwalking daze, shambling around like the walking dead while Arsenal held the ball at will. It wasn't too long before the Gunners doubled their lead, looking at the time like they'd already put the tie to bed.

Tomas Rosicky made it all happen, which was unsurprising given the fits he gave Brighton all throughout the first half. I don't know how a man that age has a motor like that, but he used it to devastating effect throughout the full 90 minutes. The play that ended in our second goal looked at he time like nothing was on - almost every blue shirt on the field was back in defensive positions. However, Tommy bisected the entire defense with a wonderfully-weighted through-ball. Mesut Ozil anticipated it perfectly, took a touch, and slotted it coolly past Stockdale. It was a great finish, but the fact that Stockdale did the panic-dive in the wrong direction helped as well. You have to say, that's why the man is playing for Brighton.

The home side's heads well and truly dropped at that point, and if we're being honest, Arsenal should have killed this game dead right then and there. Instead, our boys seemed content to pass the ball around as if they were toying with Brighton. What a mistake that almost ended up to be.

They did give us one warning shot before the interval, though. I didn't see who beat Kieran Gibbs to send the cross over (I was watching on a stream that looked like it was beamed in from one of Saturn's moons), but Nacho Monreal missed his header and Laurent Koscielny got his pocket picked on his attempted clearance. Chris O'Grady won it and fed Baldock at the corner of the penalty area in acres of space. It was a tough angle, but you have to test the goalkeeper from there. Thankfully, he skied it over.

Still, it was dreadful defending all around, and unfortunately it was a sign of things to come in the second half.

Speaking of, halftime is always the worst enemy of a side that is on top and cruising in a match, because it lets the opposition take a second to catch their breath and reassess the game. It also allows the manager to break out the hairdryer, which is what you sometimes need in that situation. Needless to say, the Seagulls came out firing for the second half, and they only needed four minutes to claw their way back into the match.

They never should have had the chance, though. A Brighton counter-attack was mostly dealt with, Rosicky just had to get it away anywhere - up the field, in the stand, behind his own net for a corner, anything. He instead chose to hoof it high in the air, their guy won the header, then O'Grady muscled off Flamini like he wasn't there, Koscielny was too late to cover, and their man had an easy goal. Teams that are switched on and playing like the game isn't over don't concede goals like that.

That said, to Arsenal's credit, they didn't immediately cave in like we've seen in the not-too-distant past. Brighton did have more of the ball from that point on, but the Gunners righted themselves more or less immediately. We can also thank Michael Oliver (a referee I've had my issues with in the past) for calling a pretty good game - he didn't buy Inigo Calderon's risible dive in our penalty area, and later on he applied the intentional handling rule correctly in not giving them a penalty when Chambers had the ball struck into his hand from about five centimeters away. I swear, no one knows this rule. It's amazing.

Anyway, you had the sense that the home side weren't dead yet, and things especially got flipped when Chris Hughton replaced the appalling Bruno Saltor with Solomon March in a like-for-like switch at right back. The young Englishman tore into Gibbs from the off, and all of a sudden we looked much less assured at the back. Unquestionably, the kid was their best player on the day...thankfully he didn't start!

Instead, Rosicky reinstated our two-goal lead with a magical bit of skill. Another barnstorming run into the Brighton penalty area set their backline into panic, and they had no answer for his gorgeous back-heel flick to Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman - out of sync and utterly anonymous otherwise, played it back to him in a perfect one-two, which the Czech master volleyed emphatically past Stockdale and in. Pick that one out.

I'll be honest, I thought that was Brighton done and dusted at that point. There was even one hilarious moment where Baldock got a yellow card for lashing out at Rosicky, clearly in frustration as Tommy had literally ran circles around him. That Warner Brothers moment doesn't normally happen to a team that is going to get back into a game, but here I have to question the substitutions that Arsene made.

First, Chuba Akpom came on for Giroud. Yes, Giroud was not on the same wavelength as his mates and didn't have that good a game, but Akpom was horrendous when he came on. We could have put the game away on several occasions if he had been able to pick out open teammates on either side of him. It was like he played with blinkers on, and it could have cost us. The other one was Alexis Sanchez - who we were supposed to be resting - on for Walcott. Maybe Theo couldn't play the whole 90, but Brighton couldn't go full-bore at us for fear of his pace on the counter. Now, maybe Arsene couldn't know that Alexis would have his worst performance so far for us (seriously, he was dreadful...but he's also earned the right to have one or two of those), but that gave Brighton license to bomb everyone forward. It's not like Akpom was going to make them pay or anything.

Sure enough, they scored again - of course they did. I again didn't catch who played him in, but once again our center got torn apart by a simple ball in between them. Baldock ran onto it and impressively chipped the ball over the advancing Szczesny.

Fifteen minutes to go, Brighton within a goal and their crowd back into it. Was everyone out there bricking it as much as I was?

Oddly enough, as nervy as it was, they never fashioned a serious chance again. Akpom should have scored in the 80th minute, instead denied by a brilliant foot save by Stockdale. Sanchez almost put in a free kick five minutes later, but O'Grady did his job in the wall, his touch just taking it onto the bar and away. Even with the last kick of the game, Ramsey should have volleyed in at the back post after yet another brilliant run and cross from Rosicky.

Despite those near misses, the Gunners maintained possession beautifully and killed off the game on a weekend where so many of our contemporaries weren't able to. That's the thing - as ugly as this was (and it was in bowling-shoe territory by the second half), we won the game.

Manchester City didn't. Chelsea didn't. Southampton didn't. Tottenham didn't. Manchester United and Liverpool have needless replays to deal with.

The mighty Arsenal? We're in the hat for the fifth round. This weekend, that's an absolutely brilliant place to be. As for Brighton, they fought hard and to their credit didn't try and kick us all over the field. Anyone who actually tries to play football is all right by me - good luck to them and hope they stay up.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Monreal 6, Koscielny 6, Chambers 7, Ramsey 7, Flamini 6, Rosicky 9, Ozil 7 (Coquelin 8), Walcott 8 (Sanchez 5), Giroud 6 (Akpom 5)

Man of the Match: There can be only one. Tomas Rosicky is a golden god.

Preview by Numbers: Brighton & Hove Albion v. Arsenal, FA Cup Fourth Round

American Express Community Stadium, Falmer
Sunday, January 25
11:00 a.m. EST, 16:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Mike Mullarkey and Lee Betts
    • 4th Official: Simon Hooper
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 10 Arsenal wins, 2 Brighton wins, 2 draws
  • All-Time in the FA Cup: 4 Arsenal wins
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Hull City, 2-0
  • Brighton's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Brentford, 2-0
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: D-W-W-L-W-W
  • Brighton's Championship Form: D-D-W-W-L-W
I have found that, in light of last weekend's incredible 2-0 win at Manchester City, I have no idea what to write in this opening section. I'm usually pretty good at taking the long view, trying to see the whole picture, and all that. But, after such a satisfying performance, it's hard not to be a little too giddy.

That's why it's so encouraging to hear the players' quotes afterwards were all along the lines of "this means nothing if we don't continue winning." Sure, we expect athletes to say cliched things like this and saying something and doing it are two different things, but I'm glad it's clear the players haven't gotten carried away like I have.

Let's keep Santi Cazorla-dancing our way forward then, shall we?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Debuchy (shoulder,) Welbeck (thigh,) Arteta (calf,) Wilshere (ankle,) Diaby (calf,) Gnabry (knee)
Doubts: Bellerin (ankle,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin)

Leading with short-term injury news, Hector Bellerin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will face late fitness tests, as they deal with ankle and groin injuries, respectively. It sounds like the young right back is more likely to feature than the Ox. Danny Welbeck remains about two weeks away, as his thigh injury approaches "confusingly long-term," a realm well known to many Arsenal players.

Speaking of confusingly long-term, there's actual news on Abou Diaby! That news is, and I quote, "He is still injured. At the moment he is not in a position where he will be able to play soon because he is not on the field at all." Actually, that's not really news at all, is it? Many tabloids have taken this opportunity to point out that Diaby is out of a contract.

Serge Gnabry is nearing a return with the Under-21 squad; he's missed about 10-11 months now. I believe it's still at least a month for Jack Wilshere and now just under three for Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Debuchy.

Now that the injuries have been discussed, let's talk about the available squad! The biggest question will be whether or not David Ospina keeps his place. I'd be surprised if he didn't, to be honest, but that's just my gut instinct. Elsewhere, perhaps we'll get to see starts for Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott? It's hard to guess how much Arsene Wenger will rotate. Perhaps Laurent Koscielny's dodgy Achilles will get a rest?

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs, Coquelin, Rosicky, Ozil, Cazorla, Walcott, Giroud.

Brighton Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: Forster-Caskey, Mackail-Smith, Halford

A bar I used to frequent in Brooklyn (now closed) had this
Brighton flag for a while, despite almost never showing
the sport.
Finding injury news for non-top flight sides can be a tricky proposition; as far as I can tell, the Seagulls have no players who are outright out of this upcoming match. There will, however, be doubts over three players who missed Brighton's midweek win over Ipswich Town: Jake Forster-Caskey, Craig Mackail-Smith, Greg Halford are all questionable. On the other hand, defender Lewis Dunk will return from a one-match ban after being booked twice and sent off against Brentford at the weekend.

Tactically, Brighton might employ a similar formation under new manager Chris Hughton to the ones he used to frustrate Arsenal in the past, specifically in Newcastle's 1-0 win at the Emirates in 2010 and Norwich's 1-0 win at Carrow Road in 2012. The Seagulls attack will certainly include Joao Teixeira, on loan from Liverpool. Teixeira scored twice against Ipswich on Wednesday, following Sam Baldock's opener.

Usually, Teixeira and Baldock play up front alongside either Chris O'Grady (who returned early from loan at Sheffield United) or Craig Mackail-Smith. With the latter an injury doubt and the club in need of a more defensive posture, Hughton could opt to only use Teixeira and Baldock at the front of a 4-4-1-1.

Predicted XI: Stockdale, Calderon, Dunk, Greer, Bennett, Holla, Ince, Forster-Caskey, March, Baldock, Teixeira.

Current Form

Hughton and Brighton look like they could rhyme.
But, they don't. English is tricky like that.
Since David Ospina started in place of Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal have three wins from three, all via clean sheet. Since Francis Coquelin was recalled from his loan, Arsenal have won six, lost one, and drawn one. Since late November, around the time Olivier Giroud returned from his injury, Arsenal have won 10 of their last 13. In fact, Arsenal have lost only one match this year in which Giroud started, the 3-2 at Stoke. With the hugely impressive win at Manchester City, Arsenal have won three straight across all competitions for the second time this season. They have not won four straight since the end of last season.

Through December 22nd, Brighton & Hove Albion had a record, across all competitions, of five wins, 11 draws (including a penalty shootout win over Swindon Town,) and 10 losses. The club sat 22nd in the Championship table and manager Sami Hyypia (whom you may recall from his days at Liverpool) resigned. Despite a draw with Reading on Boxing Day and a win over Fulham at the Cottage on the 29th of December, the Seagulls remained in the relegation zone.

On December 31, the club hired Chris Hughton, who had most recently been at Norwich. Since the hiring Brighton have rebounded, winning three and losing one across all competitions. The Seagulls are now 19th in the Championship, six points clear of relegation.

Match Facts

Theo Walcott scores the winner at the Amex in 2013.
Arsenal and Brighton last met in this very round two years ago, with Arsenal winning 3-2. At the time, Brighton were sitting 7th in the Championshp table, battling for promotion, while Arsenal sat 6th in the Premier League table. In the match, Olivier Giroud twice gave Arsenal a one-goal lead, but Brighton came back to equalize both times. In the end, it was Theo Walcott with the winner, scored in the 85th minute, to avoid a replay. Arsenal went on to lose to Blackburn Rovers at home in the next round, while Brighton would go on to fall short in their battle for promotion.

Arsenal have won three straight against Brighton across all competitions, with the Seagulls' last win coming by a 1-0 scoreline on September 7, 1982. Brighton had spent four years in the top flight from 1979 to the spring of 1983; Arsenal won five of the league encounters, Brighton won two, and one ended drawn.

This is the fifth time the clubs will be meeting in the FA Cup; Arsenal have advanced in all four previous encounters, in 1935, 1980, 1988, and 2013.

That means in 14 total matches, Arsenal have outscored Brighton 27-7.

The Referee

The last time Oliver worked a Brighton match, they...
The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Arsenal's record with Oliver is mixed this season, with two league draws against Tottenham and Liverpool and a win in the Community Shield over Manchester City.

Oliver actually took charge of the meeting between these clubs in the 2013 FA Cup fourth round. The only other Brighton match he has worked since then was the first leg of the 2013 Championship play-off semi-final against Crystal Palace, which ended 0-0 at Selhurst Park. You could probably guess how the second leg of that play-off ended, considering Crystal Palace promoted that season (and also, I said Brighton fell short in the last section; pay attention!)

Arsenal have not won a match outside of London with Oliver as the referee since, you guessed it, their visit to Brighton in 2013. Since then, while on the road, Arsenal have lost at Old Trafford and Anfield last year and drew at Anfield last month.

Around the Fourth Round

32 teams remain in the competition; 15 are from the Premier League, 10 are from the Championship, six are from League One, and one is from League Two. There are no teams from outside of the Football League remaining in the tournament.
  • Friday (night): Cambridge United v. Manchester United; Abbey Stadium, Cambridge
  • Saturday (early): Blackburn Rovers v. Swansea City; Ewood Park, Blackburn
  • Saturday: Birmingham City v. West Bromwich Albion; St. Andrew's, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Cardiff City v. Reading; Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Bradford City; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Derby County v. Chesterfield; iPro Stadium, Derby
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Middlesbrough; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Preston North End v. Sheffield United; Deepdale, Preston
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Crystal Palace; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Fulham; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Leicester City; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday (late): Liverpool v. Bolton Wanderers; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday (early): Bristol City v. West Ham United; Ashton Gate, Bristol
  • Sunday (early): Aston Villa v. AFC Bournemouth; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Monday (night): Rochdale v. Stoke City; Spotland Stadium, Rochdale
John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner and fictional character from the American television sitcom "Seinfeld". You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat if you think you're awesome enough.