Arsenal vs. Brighton
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Kick off: 4:30PM
After losing three Premier League games on the spin, anything other than victory for Arsenal in their home meeting with Brighton & Hove Albion this afternoon will likely spell the end of their top-four hopes.
The Gunners may have lost form domestically, but they are on the brink of a place in the Europa League final and Unai Emery must now decide whether to prioritise the European competition.
Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Watford on April 15 lifted them up to fourth in the Premier League, level on points with Chelsea with a game in hand to play.
That the Gunners are now relying on a their London rivals to drop points in their final two matches, against Watford (h) and Leicester City (a), says it all about their terrible run over the past fortnight.
A 3-2 home defeat to Crystal Palace kickstarted the losing run, with Emery’s decision to heavily rotate his side on the back of a trip to Napoli backfiring as his side lost at the Emirates Stadium for just the second time this season in the top flight.
Then came a 3-1 reverse at the hands of Wolverhampton Wanderers and a 3-0 thrashing against Leicester City last weekend, with the Gunners slipping back into their old ways by falling apart at the back.
Emery’s side have now lost eight and drawn four of their 18 away matches this season – a record that is worse than the likes of Palace, Leicester, Watford and Wolves – conceding 34 times on their travels.
To put that into perspective, league leaders Manchester City have shipped 10 goals across the same amount of fixtures.
Arsenal’s away-day woes have not just been restricted to the Premier League, though, as they also suffered embarrassing defeats to BATE Borisov and Rennes in the away legs of their Europa League knockout ties, before recovering in the home legs.
Thanks to their ability to pick up wins at the Emirates Stadium, the Gunners have one foot in the Europa League final as they lead Emery’s former club Valencia 3-1 after the opening 90 minutes of their semi-final tie.
Going all the way in UEFA’s secondary competition, with one of Eintracht Frankfurt or Chelsea to provide the competition in the Baku final later this month, is now the North London outfit’s best hope of sealing Champions League football for next season.
While changes can be expected today, though, Emery will not exactly throw the game and Arsenal will still be favourites to come out on top even with a slightly weakened side.
Not since March 1995 have the Gunners lost four Premier League games in a row – that is not a stat Emery will want to see updated in this final home game of a mixed season.
Meanwhile, Brighton are now four points better off than 18th-placed Cardiff City with two matches to play and boast a vastly better goal difference than the Bluebirds.
It is not inconceivable that Brighton, given their form of the past six weeks, will lose their remaining two matches against Arsenal and Manchester City.
Albion have collected just two points from the last 21 on offer in the Premier League – their other draw coming away to Wolves two weeks ago – and were also knocked out of the FA Cup by Man City during that run.
Arsenal possible XI: Leno, Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal, Jenkinson, Torreira, Xhaka, Kolasinac, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi, Aubameyang.
Brighton possible XI: Ryan, Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Bernardo, Gross, Bissouma, Stephens, March, Murray, Andone.