BRIGHTON, January 24 – Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says his side have been strengthened by their victory over Manchester City last weekend, as they continue their FA Cup defence at Brighton and Hove Albion.
The north London club travel to Championship outfit Brighton on Sunday, seven days on from their superb 2-0 win over Premier League champions City at the Etihad Stadium.
Wenger believes that landmark success — Arsenal’s first away win against either City, Manchester United or Chelsea since October 2011 — will allow his side to become better as the season progresses.
“We had a very controlled performance with a great solidarity and a great togetherness — that’s always a very good basis,” said the Frenchman.
“Everybody contributed with hard work, great work-rate. Can we keep that focus on our qualities and improve our technical level? We can only get stronger.
“What happened over the weekend helps the team to strengthen our confidence, of course. I think the attitude of the players since the start of the season, on their desire to do well and their solidarity, has been extremely good.
“The basics have not changed. We certainly have more belief and more strength in our belief.”
Arsenal travelled to the Amex Stadium at the same stage of the competition two years ago and required a late Theo Walcott goal to secure a 3-2 victory.
And Wenger is well aware of the challenge that Chris Hughton’s men will pose on the English south coast.
“It’s always difficult in the Championship away from home and we remember Brighton from two years ago,” Wenger said.
“I remember that it was a very difficult game against a team who were on the way up. They were fighting at the top level with Gus Poyet.
“It was a very difficult game. We needed to dig deep to get out with a positive result. We know that it will be another big challenge for us to go there and come home with a good result.
“Chris Hughton will give them his experience and his competence, of course. He knows how to prepare a team for a challenge like that.”
– ‘Be a threat’ –
Sunday’s tie is Hughton’s fifth game in charge of Brighton since he replaced Sami Hyypia as manager.
The former Newcastle United and Norwich City manager wants his side to be defensively sound against the Premier League big boys, but believes they can cause Arsenal problems at the other end of the pitch.
“When you are up against the quality of what Arsenal will bring, irrespective of whatever changes they make, you know it is going to be a top-class team,” he said.
“So you have got to make sure you contain the game, but you have to be a threat because for the longer periods you defend, you are going to be at the risk of conceding.
“In the moments when we can be expansive and play the way that we want to, then we will certainly look to do that, but of course we know to get a result we are going to have to defend, and defend very well.”
Brighton have received a double fitness boost with Craig Mackail-Smith and Jake Forster-Caskey back in contention after ankle and hip injuries respectively.
The pair missed Brighton’s 3-2 home win over Ipswich Town on Wednesday, which left the 1983 FA Cup finalists in 19th place in the second flight.
Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin) and full-back Hector Bellerin (ankle) face late fitness tests ahead of the game.
Fit-again duo Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil are both in contention to start, along with goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who has not played since Arsenal’s 2-0 loss at Southampton on New Year’s Day.