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Preview: Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Arsenal - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews the Boxing Day clash between Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal, including predictions, team news and head-to-head records.

Arsenal could temporarily move into the top four of the Premier League table when they take on Brighton & Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Boxing Day.

Only goal difference is denying the Gunners a place in the Champions League spots as things stand, while Brighton sit 12th in the table and enjoy a nine-point cushion to the relegation zone.


Brighton & Hove Albion manager Chris Hughton watches on during his side's Premier League clash with Watford on August 11, 2018© Reuters

Brighton boss Chris Hughton will be able to enjoy his Christmas dinner ahead of the Boxing Day visit of Arsenal, but he could be forgiven for having a sense of foreboding considering his side's recent form.

After a spell of five wins in eight games, the Seagulls have now lost three on the bounce and face the prospect of making it four in a row in the top flight for the first time since 1982-83.

Brighton have amassed enough points so far to ensure that such a slump is not a disaster, although Hughton will know that they cannot afford to let it go on too long despite their next five league matches all coming against teams currently above them in the table.

At the same stage of last season - the club's first in the top flight for 35 years - the Seagulls were 13th in the table and only three points clear of the relegation zone.

Hughton's side once again sit 13th after 18 games this time around, but now they enjoy a nine-point cushion to the bottom three and are already more than halfway to the magic 40-point mark.

A lot of that is down to their home form; Brighton have won four and lost just two of their eight league games at the Amex this season, including three wins from their last five ahead of Wednesday's match.

One of those defeats did come in their most recent outing in front of their own fans - a 2-1 reverse to Chelsea earlier this month - which means that they could suffer back-to-back home losses in a single top-flight season for the first time since November 1980.

Indeed, since their return to the top flight in the summer of 2017 Brighton have been beaten just six times on their own patch in the Premier League, and five of those have been against the established top six.

It may not be a particularly encouraging record ahead of Arsenal's visit, but it does prove that only the best seem to be able to get a result at the Amex, and such strong home form is often a prerequisite for Premier League survival.

Recent Premier League form: DWWLLL


Unai Emery goes cray on December 2, 2018© Reuters

Arsenal were handed an early Christmas present at the weekend when Chelsea slipped up at home to Leicester City, leaving the Gunners level on points with their London rivals in the race for Champions League football next season.

Unai Emery's side had applied the pressure with a bruising 3-1 win over Burnley in the day's early kickoff, and will now spend Christmas Day with only goal difference separating them from a place in the top four.

Old habits almost reared their heads during the victory over the Clarets as Burnley's rough tactics threatened to derail Arsenal's control over the game, although they weathered the storm before finally wrapping up the points in stoppage time.

It was an important victory too, having lost back-to-back matches prior to that, and the last time Arsenal suffered that fate they embarked on a 22-match unbeaten streak across all competitions.

The imminent trip to Anfield in their final match of 2018 may nip hopes of a repeat in the bud, and the Gunners will know from experience that they cannot afford to take this game for granted either, having lost this exact fixture last season.

Emery does not appear to be the type of manager to allow complacency, though, particularly when there is still plenty to work on, and a record of only three league clean sheets all season and one in their last 11 games suggests that the defence should be at the top of that list.

Arsenal actually sit in the same position after 18 games of this season as they did in their final campaign under Arsene Wenger - fifth place - but they are four points better off and have suffered two fewer defeats than the same stage of 2017-18.

One of the major differences has been Arsenal's away improvement, and a win on Boxing Day would see them already surpass their points tally on the road for the whole of 2017-18.

Indeed, there could even be a slice of history for Emery's side as they bid to become the first team to score at least twice in each of their opening nine away games of a top-flight campaign. No team in the league averages more goals per away game than Arsenal this season.

On the flip side, Arsenal are yet to keep a single clean sheet on their travels this season, and that is a drought they will be desperate to end before visiting league leaders Liverpool on Saturday.

The Gunners did finally end their wait for a half-time lead against Burnley at the weekend, though, and if Emery's side can begin to string together a full 90 minutes of their best form then they could be a force to be reckoned with during the second half of the season.

Recent Premier League form: WWDWLW
Recent form (all competitions): DWWLLW

Team News

Henrikh Mkhitaryan grabs a quick equaliser during the Premier League game between Southampton and Arsenal on December 16, 2018© Reuters

Arsenal will be without Henrikh Mkhitaryan until February due to a broken metatarsal, adding to his side's growing injury concerns.

Nacho Monreal is the latest to have joined the list after limping off in the first half against Burnley, and it is in defence where the main problems lie for Emery.

Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos all remain sidelined, while Shkodran Mustafi is still doubtful alongside Monreal due to a hamstring issue.

Emery is limited in options should he want to make changes at the back, then, but further forward the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Alex Iwobi will be pushing for starts, while Lucas Torreira is also expected to return.

Mesut Ozil may have done enough to retain his starting spot following his performance against Burnley, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will hope to start again despite the prospect of being rested with one eye on Liverpool.

Brighton have Shane Duffy back available after suspension, but will be without Lewis Dunk for the same reason following his red card against Bournemouth at the weekend.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Jose Izquierdo are both nearing returns from injury, but this match is likely to come too soon for them, while Glenn Murray will be hopeful of a recall.

Brighton possible starting lineup:
Ryan; Montoya, Balogun, Duffy, Bernardo; March, Stephens, Propper, Bissouma, Locadia; Murray

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Leno; Lichtsteiner, Sokratis, Koscielny, Kolasinac; Torreira, Xhaka; Iwobi, Ozil, Aubameyang; Lacazette

Head To Head

Brighton had lost this fixture five times in a row before the most recent contest in March, which they won 2-1 at the Amex Stadium courtesy of goals from Dunk and Murray.

Indeed, the Seagulls have now won each of their last three home games against Arsenal in the top flight, with their last such defeat coming in April 1981.

However, those are Brighton's only three wins against Arsenal in 17 previous meetings, with the Gunners coming out on top 12 times.

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We say: Brighton 1-2 Arsenal

Brighton have been difficult to beat at home this season, but they tend to fall just short when up against the league's best teams and Arsenal are facing the hosts while they are not in great form. We are going for a narrow away win.

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Who will win the Boxing Day clash between Brighton and Arsenal?

Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates scoring against Burnley on December 22, 2018
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