Brighton vs. Arsenal: Five things to look for in the FA Cup fourth round
Fate is a curious thing. This weekend, Arsenal travel to Brighton for a fourth-round FA Cup tie -- just as they did in January 2013. On that occasion, Arsene Wenger's team emerged 3-2 winners in a topsy-turvy contest. Here, we take a look at some of the key issues ahead of the latest clash at the AMEX.
Are Arsenal ready for the fight against lower-league opposition?
Arsenal should be in good form, heading in to this match off the back of a rousing 2-0 victory against Manchester City. However, Brighton will present a very different test -- as underdogs, they will be able to play without pressure and inhibition. The prospect of a glamorous FA Cup tie will most likely invigorate Chris Hughton's team, freeing them from the stress of their struggles at the lower end of the Championship table.
Not once during their successful cup run of 2013-14 did Arsenal have to play away from North London. All their fixtures were played at the Emirates, up until the semifinal and final, which took place at neutral Wembley. Going away from home will provide a sterner test. Last time Arsenal played at Brighton, they encountered a thunderous atmosphere and were twice pegged back by a buoyant Brighton. Although the scorers on that day -- Ashley Barnes and Leo Ulloa -- have since moved on, the likes of Solly March and Joao Carlos Teixeira are certainly capable of troubling the Arsenal defence.
As a former Tottenham man, manager Hughton will be particularly eager to cause an upset. Arsenal must be ready for the inevitable buffeting they will receive on Sunday.
Has Theo Walcott's finishing sharpened up?
Since returning from the groin strain that extended his layoff into the new year, Walcott has played just 127 minutes. However, in that short period of time he has squandered a number of presentable opportunities. The timing of his runs is still excellent but he has yet to show finishing to match.
It's a question of confidence. At his best, Walcott is one of the most composed finishers in the Arsenal squad. However, at present he looks rushed in front of goal. Walcott's erratic shooting can most probably be put down to an overwhelming desire to get back on the scoresheet -- when you haven't scored in more than a calendar year, a minor fixation seems perfectly reasonable. The good news is that his goals tend to come in spurts. Once he's off the mark, he may prove difficult to stop.
Walcott will hope a return to Brighton proves to be a positive omen -- in 2013, he notched the winner with a deflected volley from the edge of the box after a poor punch from Casper Ankergren.
Can Mathieu Flamini keep pace with Francis Coquelin?
This FA Cup tie may see Flamini handed a reprieve and a chance to win back his first-team place. In recent weeks, he's seen himself displaced by younger teammate Coquelin, who has earned multiple plaudits for his tenacious displays in the centre of the park.
Coquelin seems to do everything Flamini is supposed to do, with less pointing and more precision. The former Milan man turns 31 in March and his contract expires at the end of the season. He will know the next few months are a crucial period in his career.
Wenger has already admitted the club are in talks with Coquelin over a new deal. There has been no such news on Flamini. At this stage, it would take something remarkable for the club to extend his stay at the Emirates. Flamini's opportunity to stake his case for renewal begins on Sunday.
Does Joel Campbell have a future in London?
When Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo left on loan at the outset of the January transfer window, Campbell stood to be the major beneficiary. Their departures should have ensured he would receive more playing time. However, despite that reshuffling of the pecking order, speculation continues to link the Costa Rican with a move away from Arsenal.
He isn't noticeably being granted many more opportunities. Campbell has been an unused substitute in Arsenal's last four Premier League games. The cup has been kinder and he started in the last round against Hull, performing relatively well. If he does not find a place against Brighton, it's difficult to see when he will ever get a game.
Should Campbell fail to make the first XI on Sunday, he may feel he has no choice but to go. With suitors hovering in Spain and Italy, he will not be short of options if he decides to move on.
Will Arsenal give an opportunity to Chuba Akpom?
Wenger may look to involve teenage striker Akpom in the squad for this cup tie. It's part of an ongoing game of brinkmanship over the prodigiously talented forward's future.
Akpom is a big prospect and prolific goal scorer at youth level for both England and Arsenal. However, this contract expires at the end of this season and thus far he has stalled on signing a new one. His dilemma is clear -- he does not want to stay at the club if he's not going to be granted a chance to play.
Knowing that, Wenger has sought to include him more in the first-team picture. Akpom got six minutes in the last round against Hull City. It may take a longer run-out at Brighton to convince him his future lies with the club.
James McNicholas is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @gunnerblog.