Brighton and Hove Albion head into their highest-profile game of the season.
Brighton and Hove Albion head into their highest-profile game of the season buoyed by Wednesday’s impressive win against high-flying Ipswich - but knowing they will have to up their game further still to dethrone current cup-holders Arsenal.
The Seagulls recovered from their home blip against Brentford to continue their encouraging form since the departure of Sami Hyypiä and have now won four games from the five since the former Liverpool player’s resignation.
Chris Hughton will no doubt be relishing the opportunity to pit his wits against Arsene Wenger and Wednesday night’s victory suggests the one-time Spurs coach is in possession of enough tactical nous potentially to spring a surprise.
Against the Tractor Boys, Hughton deployed right-back Inigo Calderon on the right-hand side of the Albion’s advanced midfield three, with Bruno slotting into Calderon’s usual defensive role and the more attacking duo of Solly March and Adrian Colunga left on the bench.
It proved a master stroke as Calderon - who had previously played in a more attacking role in Spain earlier in his career - not only provided his usual array of swashbuckling attacking play, but also successfully restricted the attacking forays of Ipswich’s sought-after left-back Tyrone Mings.
Rohan Ince continues to be a revelation under Hughton, who appears not only to have restored the imposing midfielder’s confidence but is also allowing him a less restrictive role in the side. Under Hughton, Danny Holla provides the stable positional stance in the Albion midfield, releasing Ince to maraud and have maximum impact on the game. He will need to be at his best against a fluid Arsenal midfield likely to include returning German creative talent Mesut Ozil.
One particular feature of Hughton’s albeit short spell at the Albion helm has been the way he appears to be getting the best from players his predecessor struggled to utilise effectively.
As well as Ince - who once again has the appearance of a player fast-becoming one of his club’s key men - Hughton has also revitalised other players who did not seem in favour under Hyypia.
Holla has returned to regular action and is forging an encouraging midfield double-act with Ince, Craig Mackail-Smith and Chris O’Grady are doing enough to suggest both were loaned out far too readily earlier in the campaign and Joao Teixeira is thriving.
The Liverpool loanee was star of the show against Ipswich, revelling in the extra space afforded to him by Hughton’s decision to start a more physical, hold-up striker at the front of the Albion attack. O’Grady stretched the Ipswich defence and attracted more defenders to him when in possession. That, in turn, freed up more space for the advancing Teixeira, which he exploited with impressive aplomb.
Whether O’Grady remains at the Albion and whether Hughton can inspire a similar match-winning turn from his squad this weekend remains to be seen. But the signs are there that Brighton with Hughton at the helm are more than capable of pulling clear of relegation.
Albion team news
Likely line-up: Stockdale, Bruno, Dunk, Greer, Bennett, Holla, Ince, Calderon, Teixeira, Baldock, O’Grady.
Likely substitutes: Walton, Hughes, Halford, Forster-Caskey, March, Colunga, Mackail-Smith.