Arsenal v Brighton FA Cup semi-final preview: Gibbons now dares to dream of Wembley showpiece

Jessy Parker Humphreys caught up with Seagulls star Fliss Gibbons ahead of this weekend’s big match to talk club progress, Barcelona inspiration and being just 90 minutes away from a date with destiny.

“I thought we were the first ones to do it!” laughs Fliss Gibbons.

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She is referring to Brighton’s achievement of reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup. The last time the Seagulls made it this far in the competition was in the 1975/76 season. But as Gibbons points out, “it was a very long time ago.”

Making the semi-finals of England’s premier domestic cup competition feels like a logical progression for a Brighton side that have quietly and surely gone from strength to strength since they joined the WSL ahead of the 2018/19 season.

“It was no secret that our goal for that first season was just to stay in the league,” says Gibbons, who rejoined the club in 2017, having had a season-long spell with them in 2014.

“It wasn’t ‘Let’s throw everything at our first season’. [It was] compete where we can and stay in the league, so we can build on that and be better the next season.

“The way the club is run, and this comes from the very top, they want to run the club sustainably. They want it to be a long-term investment and a long-term focus.”

That investment and focus has seen Brighton improve from a ninth-placed finish in their first season to last year’s sixth-placed finish. They set their goals as a team collaboratively, and this season have engaged in long discussions about what they feel they can achieve in the WSL.

“We spoke about looking at it as in should we have one target for the end of the season? Which should be let’s just finish higher [than before]. Or should we look at it game by game, or perhaps month by month.

“We’ve decided to just take it [as it comes], rather than just having one big target. That’s because we all agreed that probably a sixth-placed finish this year is actually still better than a sixth-placed finish was last year. The league itself is stronger this year.”

“So yes, we want to be better than last year, and I think a fifth-placed finish would be amazing come the end of the season. But we’re going to sort of look at in smaller steps and focus more on the performances.”

Brighton actually sit fifth in the WSL as things stand having won three of their opening five games. Gibbons pinpoints pre-season as having been key to their strong start.

“In every previous season, we don’t think we’ve been good enough really until after Christmas,” she says. “So we put a bit of emphasis on that.”

Yet the changes were predominantly mental.

“I don’t know whether it’s necessarily what we did in pre-season. I almost think it is probably more of a mindset thing. Finishing where we did last season, when we had that run of games of four wins on the bounce, sort of made us realise going into this year, those sort of teams are the teams we should be picking up points against. So we’ve just gone into those games confident really, knowing that we can compete with these teams, and we should be getting three points against them.”

When it comes to their FA Cup semi-final on Sunday though, the opposition will be as tough as it gets. If Brighton have had a good start to the WSL season, Arsenal have looked unstoppable, scoring 43 goals across 12 games, and losing only one. That only loss was against Barcelona, so how will Brighton approach it?

“You go into it like you’re Barcelona, don’t you?” exclaims Gibbons.

“No, we know exactly the challenge that we are up against. But do you know what, we go into that game with absolutely no fear. We’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“We actually perform generally well against the top three, so we’ll have a game plan that we think will win us the game. We’re not just going there to make up numbers, we’re absolutely going there to win the game.”

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Gibbons does have one eye on Wembley even if Brighton would have to get past Arsenal first.

“If we get there, that’s going to be the pinnacle of most of our careers. People say ‘Oh, it’s a dream to play at Wembley’. I’ve never dreamed of playing there, because it was never a realistic dream for me. Now it’s 90 minutes away.”

You can follow Jessy on Twitter @Jessyjph

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